Friday, 27 June 2008

Rights for apes?

Spanish parliamentarians could pass a law giving rights to apes. Proposed measures would stop the animals from being used for experiments, filming, television advertising and circus performance.

The Spanish proposal 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 Spanish measure is inspired by the Great Ape Project, which calls for human-style rights for several types of mammal. A leader of this initiative is Dr Peter Singer, a bioethics professor at Princeton University, New Jersey. Peter Singer has been quoted as saying: ''I do not think it is always wrong to kill an innocent human being. Simply killing an infant is never equivalent to killing a person.''

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. One could debate whether it actually is cruel to get animals to perform in public. There's also the issue of whether medical research on other creatures can be justified if it benefits humans.

What is striking, though, is that we find concern for animals among those who are happy to deprive humans of their right to live. Like so many western countries, Spain allows the abortion of human babies. There will be a tragic irony if that country affords extra dignity to apes while continuing to deprive some of its youngest human inhabitants of every possible dignity by killing them.