Letters to the Editor
Readers write about primate rights.
Do humans have a right to grant rights to animals?
In response to your Aug. 8 editorial, "Do apes have human rights?": Apes have whatever rights humans will allow them to have. This fact alone is sufficient proof that humans have dominion over apes.
Our legal system already grants rights to entities other than humans, such as corporations or governments, making them legal persons.
Animal rights philosophy concerns itself with legally protecting the basic interests of animals. Since animals have no interest in voting or driving cars, the animal rights theory doesn't ask for those rights to be granted to animals.
Animal rights means to grant animals the one right that all sentient beings ought to have: the right not to be the resource of another. In this sense, you are correct that granting this right to only some animal species is problematic. This is why the ape rights legislation in Spain is criticized from the animal rights standpoint.
Regarding the recent editorial on animal rights: All living creatures have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Clearly, these rights are quite different than the right to vote or to drive a car. These "rights" are not actually rights at all; they are privileges.
Consider people in Middle Eastern countries. Do they have the privilege of voting?
In the United States, the privilege to vote is not extended to felons in most states.
Governments may determine eligibility for privileges, but humans should not determine which nonhuman animals have the "right" to live free from fear and suffering.
In response to the recent editorial on animal rights: I see no difficulty in extending rights to other species. This decision does not carry the ethical consequence – as implied in the editorial – that some humans will be treated as animals, because there is no inherent limit on the number of individuals that can receive rights, thus there is no necessary trade-off between humans and other species.
Spain's legislation should provoke us to reevaluate the appropriate treatment of all other species.
In response to the recent editorial regarding the rights of apes: Spain's move to grant rights to great apes reminds us that the world doesn't revolve solely around humans. The new law is a sign of human moral progress, but more important, it is a step up for the (other) great apes themselves.
I've recently visited two chimpanzee sanctuaries. Chimp Haven, in Louisiana, looks after some 120 chimps released from laboratory experimentation. Most bear emotional scars, but they now live in dignity and comfort with access to multi-acre, well-treed outdoor compounds.
At Chimpanzee Eden in South Africa, several dozen chimps – recovering victims of the bush meat and exotic pet trades – now enjoy a proper life. When I arrived, 10 chimps of various ages enjoyed a romp on a grassy slope, while two youngsters swung high in a nearby tree.
New studies show that nonhumans can reason, understand past and future, and communicate in abstractions. As Charles Darwin concluded, our differences are in degree, not kind. Bravo to Spain for recognizing this, and may the rest of the world hasten to catch up.
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