Then God said: Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: tame animals, crawling things, and every kind of wild animal. And so it happened: God made every kind of wild animal, every kind of tame animal, and every kind of thing that crawls on the ground. God saw that it was good. Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.
God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female* he created them.
God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.
A friend recently called my attention to a report that a New York Supreme Court Judge in Manhattan had agreed & heard arguments from an animal advocacy group on whether the rights of personhood can be applied to two chimpanzees (Hercules and Leo). The chimps are being held at the Long Island Stony Brook University. This case is being brought about by an organization called the Nonhuman Rights Project. The President of this organization is a legal scholar Steven Wise an adjunct professor at St. Thomas Law Schools in Virginia, a Catholic University. Other noteworthy members of this movement include primatologist Jane Goodall, biologist Richard Dawkins, and Princeton’s bioethics professor Peter Singer. A visit to their webpage reveals their mission statement:
Our mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.
I’m sure, had the major media outlets more extensively covered this story, the country would have fallen into two disparate camps. First, those who sentimentally identify with the animals would say “they can use sign language so of course they’re persons” while those opposed would declare that this is an egregious waste of taxpayer money. However, both of these camps would have missed the fundamental point of what truly is at stake.
The critical flaw in their argument is in how they are defining personhood. The premise used by the animal activists is that cognition or self-awareness is the standard to be used in judging whether an individual is a “legal person”. However, unless our personhood is rooted in our humanity as being created imago dei, in the image of God, than those experiencing a decline in cognitive abilities will be at risk. For example disabled people, the elderly, infants could all be labeled as non-persons. My fear is not that we won’t be treating Hercules and Leo as persons but we’ll be treating humans as animals.