Lawyers within the animal rights movement have begun to lay the groundwork and test
new legal theories in a focused and determined effort to grant additional legal
protections for animals, including animals involved in research. The leaders of
this legal movement advocate enacting new federal, state, and local laws and ordinances
as well as establishing new court precedents that have the potential to significantly
interfere with animal research.
This long-term, step-by-step strategy includes a multi-front campaign to toughen
state animal cruelty laws, replace the term "owner" with "guardian" in local and
state statutes, increase access to federal courts by eliminating standing requirements,
enact statutes or establish new case law to permit higher levels of compensation
for non-economic damages, expand tort law, enact laws that allow trusts to be set
up for family pets, and eventually establish a form of legal personhood for some
species of animals. While many of these strategies do not appear, at first glance,
to affect laboratory animals, the "sum of their parts" has the potential to have
an enormous impact on life-saving medical and scientific research.
The impact of this coordinated and incremental strategy can already be seen. Animal
rights lawyers have drawn support from prominent legal theorists like Harvard professors
Cass Sunstein, and Alan
Dershowitz.Several cities and one state (Rhode Island) have enacted
guardian' laws. Animal law is currently taught at more than
half of the nation's 180 accredited law schools. State,
regional and local
Bar associations are adding new animal law committees and sections to advocate for
new animal rights and protections.
Steven Wise, the person who has received the most press attention following the
publication of his new book, Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights,
argues that certain species of animals should be granted basic legal rights based
on their mental abilities. In his book he cites scientists in different fields who
lead him to conclude that some animals are so much like humans in significant ways
that they deserve some of the basic legal rights that all humans enjoy.
Wise argues that certain animals should be granted new rights on two separate legal
grounds – equality and liberty. With respect to equality, he simply argues
that like beings should be treated alike. Because chimpanzees and certain other
animal species are so much like humans, they should be granted basic legal rights.
At a minimum they should have a right to bodily integrity, which means no captivity,
and no medical research.
With regard to liberty rights, Wise argues that humans have rights because they
have practical autonomy. A being has practical autonomy if it (1) can desire; (2)
can intentionally try to fulfill those desires; and (3) possesses a sense of self-sufficiency
and self-awareness. He then evaluates different animal species based upon these
criteria. If they met the criteria, he then argues that they should be entitled
to basic legal rights. Bodily integrity again being the basic minimum legal right.
Wise is hoping to start slow with this argument and gradually progress. His first
goal is to convince a state court that a chimpanzee is so like a human being that
it should be given this fundamental right. If he is successful, he believes it would
then be easier to convince other state courts to rule similarly. He would then move
on to other animal species based upon this precedent.