Animal personhood

When does an animal count as a person? At io9, George Dvorsky reviews recent moves to secure legal protections for "highly sapient" animals such as great apes, elephants and cetaceans.


  1. The upside of not being legally classified as people is that animals aren’t bound by our laws either. That’s why apes can get away with masturbating in public.

    1. if we classify whales and octopuses as persons do we start locking up whales for murdering octopuses? 

      maybe thats how we can keep sea world stocked with whales ‘this isn’t an animal park, its a prison for persons who are murderers”

      1. And when the elephants are granted the right to vote, is it a foregone conclusion that they’ll all just side with the Republicans?

    1. Seems pretty unworkable. From a legal perspective a chimp is (a) completely able to survive on its own in the wild and has full capacity in its own society, but (b) would have profound disabilities with an appointed guardian in a human context. If the perceived benefit is that we will treat animals better, pass animal protection laws. Making them equivalent to people with profound disabilities is not going to make that happen.

  2. It’s jarring to see that article posted the day after BP pleads guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter. Many of the arguments against granting personhood to non-human species are just as valid against granting personhood to corporations, yet we’ve gone ahead and done that. Still, if the Pacific White-Sided Dolphin species were to incorporate, who would choose their board of directors?

      1. Last week a Brazilian writer from the “Veja” magazine just made a similar comparison, but with goats; something in the lines of “Gay people can’t marry as people can’t marry goats too”. So, that’s *not* a hypothetical joke!

  3. I love how we put the onus of personhood on other animals, who just happen to be the victims. It would be easier to define being human as ‘not killing shit for funsies’.

  4. Personhood implies not just protection, but also responsibility for one’s actions.  I don’t know of anyone other than humans who can take on full human responsibility.  I think declaring animals need “personhood” is likely to turn off more people than it is to recruit.  It is fiction to call an animal that can’t negotiate, follow rules, or communicate with us a “person”.  They don’t need person protections and responsibilities   They need protection specific to situation.

    What makes more sense is to give higher order animals more protection in the way you protect any aspect of the environment.  We already do to a large extent.  It is trivial to get the thumbs up to test on a cockroach, but you have to jump through some very serious hoops to do medical testing on primates.

    I’m not against examining greater protection for higher ordered animals, but the “personhood” rout is just extremist sounding fiction that is more likely to do these animals more harm than good.  

  5. I’ve often thought that treating animals as if they have human rights just invites the state to treat humans like animals.

  6. A lot of comments here are ignoring the difference between the status of person and the biological label of ‘human’.  Personhood does not imply the responsibility of abiding by human laws – it merely delineates a moral status.
    Regardless of the problems associated with this path, if certain animal species clearly match our criteria for personhood (not humanity, personhood), then it simply the right thing to do to face reality and give them that status.  The ethical implications of that status must then be dealt with and enshrined into law.

    Calling the personhood route ‘fiction’ is simply uninformed.  The science and ethics behind these initiatives are extremely well established.  

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