Non-Human Rights and Why You Should Care

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Human Rights are something that we know we are entitled to. As humans we are considered to have legal rights on many issues, and these would be protected by a Judge in court.

We know that this has not always been the case. Throughout history some groups had to fight for their right to be seen as ‘legal persons‘. The very fact that someone was human, did not give them entitlement to the human rights that are taken for granted by so many.

Slaves were not considered legal persons for a great number of years. Rather they were considered to be legal things, which could be owned and treated in any way that the ‘owner’ saw fit. Women and children have also been treated as ‘legal things’ in our history and it took a great deal of effort to put these terrible injustices right. And so today, there are no ‘human things’, rather all humans are considered ‘legal persons’ in the eyes of the law.

Legal Persons

It gets a little bit murky when we add in the fact that not all legal persons are human, in fact, some legal persons are not even living. Steven Wise explains in the video below how judges have bestowed the status of ‘legal person’ on some very ‘un-human’ things including corporations, mosques, various holy books and statues and even a river in New Zealand.

Now, as Steve discusses so eloquently, the question turns to conscious, nonhuman animals.

‘If you have the cognitive capacity to live life as you choose, you should be able to do that. Your species is completely irrelevant.’

He gives an interesting example comparing legal things to legal persons below:

“The example I give is that I can take a baseball bat, and smash the window of your car, and I’ll be charged with something. But the car or the windshield doesn’t have legal rights. It’s not a person. Essentially, a non-human animal is a kind of animate windshield. If I’m cruel to her, I can go to jail, but the non-human animal is a complete bystander to this. She doesn’t have any rights.”

NonHuman Animals

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