Chimp Filing for Person-hood

on September 29, 2007
Featured in News to Know

His name notwithstanding, the current legal case for the personhood of Mr. Matthew Hiasl Pan (a chimp) is in jeopardy, reports the Associated Press from Vienna, Austria.

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His name notwithstanding, the current legal case for the personhood of Mr. Matthew Hiasl Pan is in jeopardy, reports the Associated Press from Vienna, Austria. Known until this summer as just Hiasl, Mr. Pan is facing an uphill battle, it seems, in being awarded the rights and protections he allegedly deserves. Pan’s legal counsel has vowed to take the case to Austria’s Supreme Court after a lower court rejected Pan’s latest appeal.

So what’s the catch? “Mr.” Pan is actually a chimpanzee (the genus name of chimpanzee being Pan) who has belonged, for 25 years, to an animal shelter that recently filed for bankruptcy. Worried that Hiasl and another chimp might end up homeless, the Vienna-based Association Against Animal Factories (AAAF) wants Hiasl legally declared a person and given a guardian to “look out for his interests and provide him with a home.”

The court’s current rejection of the AAAF case is based on the petitioners’ legal status to represent Hiasl. A court in the UK ruled in April that a British woman could not be named Hiasl’s guardian because the chimp was neither mentally impaired nor in danger—at least one of which is required for Hiasl to be given a guardian. Claiming legal precedence for representation by “close friends,” the AAAF has appealed the case to the Austrian Supreme Court, which has not yet set a date for the trial.

AAAF president Martin Balluch “insists that Pan is ‘a being with interests’” and says the courts are evading the question of Hiasl’s personhood. The AAAF argues that personhood will “give [Hiasl] the basic rights he needs to ensure he isn’t sold to someone outside Austria, where he’s now protected by strict animal cruelty laws.” The AP article notes that the AAAF is not trying to have Hiasl declared a human, but simply a person:

“The question is: Are chimps things without interests, or persons with interests?" Balluch [asked]. “A large section of the public does see chimps as beings with interests.”

It is not immediately clear how much Darwinian perspectives are motivating this legal action, if at all. But the AP article does note, “[W]ith the genetic makeup of chimpanzees and humans so strikingly similar, [the AAAF] contends, [Hiasl’s current situation] just can’t be.”

We do share a substantial portion of our DNA with chimpanzees (though we share half of our DNA with bananas!), but there are substantial differences as well. Aside from legal wrangling to further animal protections, the question is, why not grant chimps legal status? If evolution is true, we simply have different mutations than chimps, but at heart, are just as much “animal” as they are. Of course, carrying this to its logical conclusion, we would have to ask why not extend “personhood” to every vertebrate, or even every animal! (For that matter—and for the atheists to answer—since we are [supposedly] simply bundles of atoms, how is it right to give us personhood and deny it to inanimate objects?) Genesis gives us a clear justification for there to be a difference between humans, animals, and everything else that God created: humans, Genesis 1:26 notes, are made in the image of God. However, this by no means gives humankind license to trample the rest of God’s creation, animals included (Proverbs 12:10).

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