Primal rights: Justice for Tommy the chimp
Plaintiff Tommy the chimp of Johnstown, New York has made legal history. Attorney Steve Wise on December 2, 2013 presented a case on behalf of the chimp for his legal right to bodily liberty. Wise who represents the Nonhuman Rights Project, asserts that 26-year-old Tommy, who has been kept alone in a cage in a local warehouse, is a person, possessing a legal right to bodily liberty previously reserved for humans and has a right to not be owned or imprisoned against his will.
Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project bases their assertions for legal rights on decades long research conducted by nine of the world’s leading primate scientists. These scientists have consistently demonstrated an intense level of complexity, self-awareness and autonomy exhibited by chimps comparable to humans. The lawsuits argue that personhood derives from cognitive and emotional qualities that chimpanzees, like humans, possess in abundance. While previously this kind of evidence has been applied to questions of cage size and welfare this case marks the first time that chimps similarities to humans have been related to the more basic legal question of personhood.
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