Defining personhood

Cyndi’s Two Cents

Defining personhood


Animal rights or animal welfare?

I am a proponent of animal welfare. We practice it on our farm. My husband and I have a deep-rooted passion for raising livestock that began when we were children. We share a commitment to raising cattle and poultry with the solid ethical standards with which we were raised. Practicing animal welfare was from the very beginning an integral part of our philosophy.

I do not believe animals have the same rights as humans. Most humans have the capability to contemplate their actions and character. Animals do not.

Four years ago, I penned a column sharing my philosophy on animal welfare and animal rights. I wrote about the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and its efforts to “secure legally recognized fundamental rights for nonhuman animals through litigation, advocacy, and education.”

At the time, NhRP had filed a suit on behalf of 3 elephants, demanding that the court, recognize the pachyderms as legal persons with the fundamental right to bodily liberty. Personhood for animals? I had a cat that was an important and daily presence in my life for 20 years. I cried when he died last year and I still miss him, but I do not miss him as if he had been a person.

Sometime in 2022, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, will hear oral arguments regarding a petition of habeas corpus alleging that Happy, a female Asian elephant housed at the Bronx Zoo, should be moved to an elephant sanctuary. The petition alleges the elephant’s detention is unlawful because, under U.S. law, the 51-year-old elephant is a person.

About that column I wrote 4 years ago. . .it is posted on the Brownfield website, and I still get comments on it.  A comment that came in last week gave me pause:

“Animals are more intelligent than we give them credit for and should be made legal persons. This also applies to places like rivers and the Amazon rain forest. Recently, New Zealand made the Whanganui River a legal person, and Columbia made its portion of the Amazon rain forest a legal person as well. The implication being made here is that you treat nature as you’d want to be treated or be prepared to be charged as though they’d committed a crime against a human being.”

A quick internet search shows that rivers and parks in India, Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, and Canada are considered legal persons under law in those countries. Under U.S. law, a corporation or a ship can be a person. In 2019, the Yurok tribe in Northern California decreed that the Klamath River is a person.

I believe that being good stewards of the air, water, land, and animals is the right thing to do. But to suggest that anything other than a human is a person just doesn’t make sense to me.