Which of the Following Is a Person?
Over the weekend, I borrowed a friend’s time machine and cold-bloodedly killed a Neandertal, a Homo erectus, an Australopithecus, a dolphin, a chimp, eight sentient robots, the first extraterrestrial visitor to Earth, and my neighbor with the unreasonably loud sound system.
Question: in the eyes of the law, how many murders did I just commit?
John Rennie, former editor-in-chief of Scientific American, looks at each of these species and wonders which of them might qualify for recognition as legal persons as opposed to legal things. His neighbor, for sure. And, as a result of latest scientific studies, the Neanderthal.
Just 10 years ago I might have been able to argue that Homo neanderthalensis was a different species and that killing one was therefore not the same as killing a person. Recent genomic studies, though, have shown that modern humans and Neandertals interbred so heavily that it’s now doubtful whether they were separate species, which isn’t good for my case.
But what about the dolphin and the chimpanzee?
Rennie writes about the panel discussion at the big AAAS Conference in Vancouver last month where scientists explained that dolphins and whales meet all the known considerations for recognition as nonhuman persons who have the right not to be killed or captured.
He also discusses the The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (H.R. 1513/S.810) now pending in the U.S. Congress that would end the use of chimpanzees in invasive biomedical research.
And he ends by saying:
My further hunch is that, notwithstanding the problems, cetaceans and at least some of the great apes will eventually be recognized as persons. In fact, this categorization will someday probably be regarded as so self-evident that future generations will look back on our ignorance of it with the incredulity that we have for societies that kept slaves.
You can read the whole article here.