Unlocking the Cage: Animals Are People Too (VIDEO)


This short documentary follows the lawyer Steven Wise’s effort to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans.

As the New York Times reports, “In December 2013, the lawyer Steven Wise showed the world how, with a little legal jujitsu, an animal can transition from a thing without rights to a person with legal protections. This Op-Doc video follows Mr. Wise on his path to filing the first-ever lawsuits in the United States demanding limited “personhood” rights for certain animals, on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State.”

Mr. Wise has spent more than 30 years developing his strategy for attaining animal personhood rights. […] He helped pioneer the study of animal rights law in the 1980s. In 2000, he became the first person to teach the subject at Harvard Law School, as a visiting lecturer. […] legal personhood would give some animals irrevocable protections that recognize their critical needs to live in the wild and to not be owned or abused.

Wise is currently focusing his legal campaign on animals with a high level of intelligence, as supported by scientific research: chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants and whales primarily.

“The body of scientific work on chimpanzee cognition, in particular, is enormous, and scientific testimony is crucial to Mr. Wise’s legal arguments. His team, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), selected as its first plaintiffs four chimps living in New York: Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo. He chose these animals in large part because New York’s common laws are favorable to habeas corpus lawsuits, and because there are great ape sanctuaries that could accommodate them.”

The case is expected to go before New York’s intermediate appellate courts, and if Wise wins, he will have successfully destroyed the wall that separates animals from humans under the law.  As New York Times points out, “In many ways, the lawsuits have already won: They have brought animal personhood to the forefront of the conversation surrounding our society’s relationship with animals.”

NOTE: For those unfamiliar with their work, the NhRP website states:  “The Nonhuman Rights Project is the only organization working toward actual LEGAL rights for members of species other than our own.”

“Our mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”

You can watch the mini-documentary, below, from Academy Award-winning movie maker D.A. Pennebaker and Oscar nominee Chris Hegedus.  As NhRP writes:

“In this Op-Doc video, adapted from the movie for the New York Times, Steve teaches at law school, visits the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary, tests his memory abilities against a chimpanzee, meets with the legal team as they prepare the first court cases, visits Merlin, who would have been their first chimpanzee plaintiff had he not died of a tooth infection at a roadside zoo, and heads into court on behalf of Tommy, a chimpanzee being kept in a dark shed at a used trailer lot.”

Produced by: Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker

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