In a heartbreaking interspecies ruling, a judge has declined to give legal personhood to Hercules and Leo, two chimps being researched on at Stony Brook University.
For about five years, and half of these chimps' lives, Stony Brook's Division of Laboratory Animal Research has conducted locomotive studies on Hercules and Leo. In other words, a bunch of conscious primates have legally imprisoned two other conscious primates for research purposes.
When I recently spoke to Steven Wise, president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, he told me that chimps are "not only conscious, but self-conscious." They have been shown to be autonomous, self-aware, and even have a theory of mind, meaning they realize other chimps have minds, too.
Using its understanding of the chimp cognition, Wise's organization challenged the right of the research to keep the chimps on the centuries-old grounds of illegal detainment. The judge thought otherwise.
Chimp and human DNA are more than 98 percent similar. If the chimps' self-awareness cannot elevate them beyond mere things, what can?
Christopher Leelum, a student at Stony Brook University, is an intern with Newsday and amNewYork.