Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe granted a writ of habeas corpus to two petitioners named Leo and Hercules yesterday. What makes this interesting is that Leo and Hercules are chimpanzees who are currently being used for locomotion-based medical research at Stony Brook University. And what makes this really interesting is that, according to the Nonhuman Rights Project, “only a ‘legal person’ may have an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus issued in his or her behalf,” meaning Leo and Hercules are now effectively legal persons in the eyes of New York.
Habeas corpus is a legal petition that detainees use to seek relief from unlawful imprisonment, and by granting habeas corpus to chimps, Jaffe endorsed the idea that they deserve the rights of a human being.
Advocates argue great apes are highly intelligent and self-aware beings with complex emotional lives that deserve basic rights, including the right to be free of inhumane punishment.
With the writ granted, Stony Brook now has to provide a “legally sufficient reason” for keeping the chimps, which the judge will rule on at a hearing sometime next month. There’s obviously a push and pull going on here, with medical research on one side and animal rights on the other, and but I am far too busy barricading myself in my apartment to have that discussion. Chimps are people now. I’ve seen movies. I know where this is headed.