Dehumanizing Humans: When Animal Rights Trump Our Right to Life+

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 22, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Dehumanizing Humans: When Animal Rights Trump Our Right to Life Email this article
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by Laura Echevarria
May 22, 2007 Note: Laura Echevarria is the former Director of Media Relations and a spokesperson for the National Right to Life Committee and has been a radio announcer, freelance writer active in local politics. She is a new opinion columnist for

Although I graduated from college with a degree in speech communications, I began as a biology major. I’ve never ceased to be amazed at how intricately we are made, how marvelously we are woven together.

But it is not just our incredible physical complexity. Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith puts our uniqueness this way: “We are moral and intellectual beings with the ability to create, civilize, project over time, and transcend.”

Put another way, “[H]uman beings are much more than the mere sum of our parts and functions.”

But to some, belief in human superiority (or “exceptionalism”) is a form of bigotry, dubbed “specism.” Ironically, these same individuals must engage in deep—albeit wrongheaded but uniquely human—thought to conclude that some animals are our equals.

Their goal is to make animals—at least certain animals—the moral and legal equals of humans.

For example, animal rights activists in Vienna, Austria, have taken up the cause of Hiasl, a 26-year-old chimpanzee. The animal sanctuary where Hiasl has lived faces bankruptcy. An Austrian businessman has donated a considerable amount of money towards his upkeep but without a legal guardian, the money will go to receivers, according to The Observer. “As only humans have a right to legal guardians, his campaigners say it is necessary for Hiasl’s survival to prove that he is one of us.”

But that is just the beginning. According to the Associated Press:

“Spain’s parliament is considering a bill that would endorse the Great Ape Project, a Seattle-based international initiative to extend ‘fundamental moral and legal protections’ to apes.”

But this summary doesn’t do the project justice.

According to the Great Ape Project website, the organization’s purpose is to see that all great apes are granted the equivalent status of human beings. They define “great apes” as “human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans.”

They also demand a “community of equals” among these animals and human beings. They define the “community of equals” as:

“The moral community within which we accept certain basic moral principles or rights as governing our relations with each other and enforceable at law.” (emphasis mine)

In order to achieve the goal of establishing a “community of equals,” the Great Ape Project lists three rights or principles that must be achieved. They are:

“1. The Right to Life [in which] the lives of members of the community of equals are to be protected. Members of the community of equals may not be killed except in very strictly defined circumstances, for example, self-defense.

2. The Protection of Individual Liberty [in which] members of the community of equals are not to be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty. . . ..

3. The Prohibition of Torture [in which] the deliberate infliction of severe pain on a member of the community of equals, either wantonly or for an alleged benefit to others, is regarded as torture, and is wrong.. . . …”

As tempting as it is to dismiss the group as part of a fringe element, the Great Ape Project has been supported by such influential individuals as primate expert Jane Goodall and Princeton’s infamous bioethicist Peter Singer. If Singer’s name seems familiar, he has authored a number of works, including Practical Ethics, in which the professor wrote:

"Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse affects on the others, it would, according to the total view [of utilitarianism], be right to kill him. The main point is clear: killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all."

And in that same book he wrote:

"The only difference between killing a normal infant and a defective one is the attitude of the parents."

I have one word for that: hogwash.

There is a bizarre ships-passing-in-the-night quality to the “Great Ape Project.” Granting rights to animals (as Wesley Smith notes) “comes at the same time that we are diminishing the perceived moral worth of the developmentally and cognitively disabled among us, and indeed, adding to the list of humans that make up our disposable caste.”

Whether the Great Ape Project will one day come to fruition remains to be seen. But the very fact that the organization is being taken seriously in some government circles—at a time when not all humans have rights—is cause for alarm.