Let us look, however, at the differences between humans and animals. Dr Armand Leroi, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College London, has said that, although the genes of humans and chimpanzees are
"pretty much the same"humans are
"so much better at imitation, language and culture ... [P]rimates simply don't have the social skills we humans take for granted."Dr Leroi cited behavioural observation experiments at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, which found that chimpanzees
"can't understand the intentions of [human] adults. Human children, by contrast, are naturally very good at understanding the intentions of others."Dr Leroi interviewed a psychologist who has used Shakespeare's Othello as a key to understanding human interaction. The psychologist said that
"chimpanzee[s] could never understand a play by Shakespeare, even if they could understand language. Their minds are limited to second-order intentionality at best, which means they simply couldn't even follow the plot."Dr Leroi concludes that:
"We alone among the animals can step beyond our biology. Perhaps it is this that truly makes us human."The proposal to accord personhood status to dolphins and apes takes animal welfare into the realms of rights. This runs contrary to the widely-held beliefs that animals are not persons and that only persons are capable of possessing rights. Indeed, permission for abortion, embryo experimentation and (in certain cases) euthanasia is often predicated on the erroneous belief that unborn children and the severely mentally incapacitated are not persons.
The proper treatment of animals is a legitimate concern. We need to treat all aspects of our world responsibly, and it's wrong to abuse any creature even if it's not human. It would be a tragic irony if society affords extra dignity to dolphins and apes while continuing to deprive some of its most vulnerable human inhabitants of every possible dignity by killing them in abortion, embryo experimentation and euthanasia.
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