What comes to mind when you read the following words?
Our main argument is that Hiasl is a person and has basic legal rights… We mean the right to life, the right to not be tortured, the right to freedom under certain conditions
Are we talking human rights violations somewhere in the world? Or perhaps an exposé of Abu Ghraib? Another abortion diatribe?
None of the above.
Like many 26-year-old males, Hiasl likes to eat pastries and watch TV, but he’s a bit more on the hirsute side than most of us and could probably use a douse of cologne. That’s no reason to discriminate but, uh, the “person” whose rights are being championed is a chimp.
Hiasl (HEE-zul) lives in an animal sanctuary in Vienna, Austria, but the place is running out of money. His advocates insist that Hiasl needs personhood status to receive donations and a guardian to look after his interests. Without help, the chimp faces homelessness or—worse—pharmaceutical experimentation.
You can read it for yourself (Activists Want Chimp Declared a “Person”), but under Austrian law only a person can receive personal donations. His supporters therefore see a change in legal status as the way to ensure Hiasl’s welfare.
It’s admirable to witness a passion for the welfare of animals. If you saw Amazing Grace and read about the great abolitionist William Wilberforce you’ll recall that he helped found the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A Christian worldview includes the humane treatment of God’s creatures.
But what we have here is a major blurring of the line. (See Kenneth Samples’ two articles on key differences between animals and humans in Connections here.) And that often-used persuasive genetic stat worked its way into the article. “Chimps share 99.4 percent of their DNA with humans,” said the head of the Association Against Animal Factories.
Anyone familiar with Reasons To Believe knows that biochemist Fuz Rana has explained over and over on Creation Update and in Who Was Adam? about the difference between genetic similarity and genetic expression. The way that 99.4 percent is expressed in the two species accounts for profound anatomical differences. Such expression resonates with a creation model contending that a Creator used the same “stuff” as an artist but employed that wonderful genetic material as he saw fit to produce very different organisms.
One caution for Christians and others who share the view that human beings bear the divine image is to resist the temptation to ridicule all animal rights activists. Michael Antolini, president of the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: “I’m not about to make myself look like a fool” by getting involved in the chimp personhood case.
A couple of years ago the term “persistent vegetative state” was used as a medical category for a woman with brain damage who could no longer speak. Today we have one of Hiasl’s handlers saying that “being with him is like playing with someone who can’t talk.”
Some people appear to be confused on the human-animal-vegetable distinction—and a category mistake at this level can have dire consequences.