Animals Are People, Too?

By West, Woody | Insight on the News, September 27, 1999 | Go to article overview

Animals Are People, Too?


West, Woody, Insight on the News


When a new specialty is recognized by the prestigious academic legal factories, you can bet that court calendars shortly will be clogged with lawsuits. The trendiest new specialty has ascended to that eminence: The Harvard and Georgetown law schools have announced they will offer courses in "animal law" for the first time.

There already are law firms that specialize in this latest cultivation of the "rights" industry. There also is an "Animal Legal Defense Fund," and a scholarly journal on the topic is published at the school that put out the first environmental-law journal when that specialty was cranking up to whisk us toward ecological bliss.

"Animal law" may sound unexceptional. Concern for animals obviously is a decent cause and has had general sanction and effect for many decades. But the institutionalization of the animal-rights movement leads one to wonder if this country is becoming unserious at the core.

A premier organization, the Humane Society of the United States, has positioned itself in the deep grass of left field, out there with the wilder-eyed players. And two examples reported in the New York Times indicate the vertiginous drift of this phenomenon.

As Exhibit A, Gary L. Francione, who teaches animal law at Rutgers University, is critical of lawyers in the field for not being more aggressive. He urges that lawsuits be filed on behalf of gorillas, asserting that "they should be declared to be `persons' under the Constitution," with rights consonant with that status.

Exhibit B is equally dizzying. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last year gave a zoo visitor legal standing to sue the government to provide companionship for chimpanzees -- that is, to require "group living arrangements and appropriate amenities" for the chimps. The lawsuit was filed under 1985 amendments to the Federal Animal Welfare Act, which require that conditions of confinement assure "the psychological well-being of primates." (Whether zoos themselves are -- at best -- anachronisms is an argument for another time.)

Once the rhetoric is peeled away, the animal-rights crusade is a political movement. It doesn't take a solon to imagine the extent to which its odd energy can be extended. One would have had to have fallen off the turnip truck last week not to know that the livestock industry as well as medical and pharmaceutical experimentation using animals are going to be very high on the target list.

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