Editorial: As much as we love them, animals aren't people

Published on Wednesday, 20 September 2017 11:36 - Written by

It’s over. The long national crisis we all know as “monkey-selfie-gate” has ended, with the announcement of a settlement between People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and photographer David Slater.

The issue was never the selfie taken - inadvertently - by a grinning macaque monkey. The issue was whether the monkey could hold the copyright to the photo.

This goes beyond humane treatment of animals and even the way we feel about our own pets. It would have set a dangerous precedent that would eventually be used to say that animals are the equal of humans, that a beast really is as important as a baby.

PETA has always been very clear about its goals in pursuing the case.

“If we prevail in this lawsuit, it will be the first time that a nonhuman animal is declared the owner of property, rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself,” PETA general counsel Jeffrey Kerr said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of an animal to claim personhood. There’s ongoing litigation in several courts.

“Their goal is to win animals a toehold in the world of legal rights - a strategy that is the culmination of more than two decades of writing and legal work by lawyer Steven Wise and an allied group of attorneys, scientists and animal activists,” the Boston Globe reports. “They hope to have an animal declared a ‘person’ in a court of law, breaking down a legal barrier between humans and other species that has stood for millennia.”

Here’s the problem with that. Animals are fully deserving of our protections and our compassion.

But they are not persons. Declaring them so doesn’t raise them; it lowers us.

In his classic essay “Animal Rights and Wrongs,” the Heritage Foundation’s Ed Fuelner pointed to PETA’s declaration that eating chicken is the moral equivalent of the Holocaust.

“This is not love for animals; it is callousness toward human suffering,” he wrote. “Those who think the animal-rights crowd is composed of harmless vegetarian teenagers ranting about fur coats need to think again. These are serious people with a serious-if scary-belief system. For example, animal-rights advocate Dr. Jerry Vlasak, writing about a man whose 5-year-old boy had open-heart surgery, says the boy’s life is ‘no more or less important than any other animal’s life, no matter how much (the father’s) emotions tell him otherwise.’”

Yet PETA has lost this latest battle. PETA has already lost an initial lawsuit, when the judge ruled that copyright law doesn’t apply to nonhumans, but PETA appealed that verdict to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

As the Washington Post reported, “Last week, PETA and Slater announced a settlement: PETA agreed to drop its appeal, and Slater agreed to pay 25 percent of his future royalties from the photo to organizations involved in habitat-protection efforts in Sulawesi.”

But it won’t end there. Count on PETA to continue pressing to have animals awarded with human rights.

We can love animals, without making them our equals.