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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Animal Rights in Spain

William Saletan has a brief piece discussing recent legislation in Spain that makes it illegal to "kill or deprive of liberty" Great Apes.  He is rather critical and writes,

The resolution, approved last week by a parliamentary committee with broad support, urges the government to implement the agenda of the Great Ape Project, an organization whose founding declaration says apes "may not be killed" or "arbitrarily deprived of their liberty." No more routine confinement. According to Reuters, the proposal would commit the government to ending involuntary use of apes in circuses, TV ads, and dangerous experiments. . . .

If the idea of treating chimps like people freaks you out, join the club. Creationists have been fighting this battle for a long time. They realized long ago that evolution threatened humanity's special status. Maybe you thought all this evolution stuff was just about the past. Surprise! Once you've admitted chimps are your relatives, you have to think about treating them that way. That's why, when the Spanish proposal won approval last week, GAP's leader in Spain called it a victory for "our evolutionary comrades."

Opponents view the resolution as egalitarian extremism. Spain's conservative party frets that it would grant animals the same rights as people. Spanish newspapers and citizens complain that ape rights are distracting lawmakers from human problems. Wesley Smith, my favorite anti-animal-rights blogger, sees the resolution as the first step in a campaign to "elevate all mammals to moral equality with humans." Ultimately, Smith warns, "Animal rights activists believe a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy." . . .

GAP is scientifically honest. And science doesn't show mental parity between great apes and human adults. What it shows, as the group's president acknowledges, is that great apes "experience an emotional and intellectual conscience similar to that of human children." Accordingly, the Spanish proposal doesn't treat apes like you or me. It treats them like "humans of limited capacity, such as children or those who are mentally incompetent and are afforded guardians or caretakers to represent their interests." . . . .

Opening your mind to science-based animal rights doesn't eliminate inequality. It just makes the inequality more scientific. A rat can't match a pig, much less a boy. In fact, as a GAP board member points out, "We are closer genetically to a chimp than a mouse is to a rat."

George Orwell wrote the cruel finale to this tale 63 years ago in Animal Farm: "All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others." That wasn't how the egalitarian uprising in the book was supposed to turn out. It wasn't how the animal rights movement was supposed to turn out, either.

Reuters reports on the legislation and states,

Spain's parliament voiced its support on Wednesday for the rights of great apes to life and freedom in what will apparently be the first time any national legislature has called for such rights for non-humans.   Parliament's environmental committee approved resolutions urging Spain to comply with the Great Apes Project, devised by scientists and philosophers who say our closest genetic relatives deserve rights hitherto limited to humans.

   

"This is a historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades, which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity," said Pedro Pozas, Spanish director of the Great Apes Project. . . .

           

The new resolutions have cross-party or majority support and are expected to become law and the government is now committed to update the statute book within a year to outlaw harmful experiments on apes in Spain.

For more information about the legislation and the rationale behind it, click here.

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