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Liberté, Egalité, Chimpanzée

June 27, 2008 02:52 PM
by Josh Katz
The Spanish parliament has voted to give chimps, gorillas and orangutans “human rights,” raising questions about how far to extend rights for animals.

30-Second Summary

The resolutions, which guarantee all great apes, freedom and immunity from torture, still need final approval. If they pass, Spain will become the first national legislature to give nonhumans such rights.

The Great Apes Project, created in 1993, is the inspiration for the legislation. The project has defended the rights of great apes in particular, because they are the closest relative to humans. Great apes are gorillas, bonobos, orangutans and chimpanzees.

Support for the legislation crosses party lines in Spain, and it is believed that the resolutions will become law, consequently banning scientific experiments, circuses, television commercials or filming involving great apes in the country. Zoos will still be permitted to keep apes, but the living conditions will require upgrades, the Times of London reports.

The United Kingdom prohibited experiments on great apes in the late 1990s, but experiments on primates like marmosets and macaques are still permitted.

Supporters of the resolutions point to the human characteristics the apes exhibit. All great apes pass the ‘mirror self-recognition’ test, meaning they understand that they are the image in the mirror. They can also communicate with humans through signs or symbols, and they “have displayed love, fear, anxiety and jealousy,” according to the BBC.

Opponents argue that those characteristics are precisely why experiments involving apes are so valuable, and say that science may now miss out on important discoveries, including medical breakthroughs for diseases like AIDS.

Also, some critics ask where the stopping point will be. “Say that apes share 98% of human DNA and therefore should have 98% of human rights. Well mice share 90% of human DNA. Should they get 90% of human rights?” says Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University of London.

Headline Link: ‘Spanish Parliament Approves “Human Rights” for Apes’

Background: Chimps’ genetic similarity to humans

Opinion & Analysis: Should we treat apes like humans?

Reference: Great Ape Project


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