Nonhuman legal personhood and the fight over animal rights

December 28, 2018 - 3:00 am

By Amy E. Feldman, Judge Technology Solutions

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — What kind of legal mumbo jumbo is "nonhuman personhood"? An elephant named Happy wants to know.

A group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit against the Bronx Zoo, arguing that Happy the elephant at the zoo is anything but happy because she is isolated in captivity. The group had asked the court to recognize its legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty.  

There are many people who love animals more than they love people, but what does the law say about the legal rights of nonhumans?  

There are laws in every state that prevent cruelty to animals. But the concept of giving animals the legal status of "personhood" goes further. It is asking the court to recognize that non-humans who have self-awareness, social instincts and emotional lives should be given the right to life and freedom.  

The problem is that courts, including the New York court where Happy's case was filed, rejected that very argument, which the same group argued over a similar case in regard to chimpanzees last year.

For now, pets, chimps, elephants and other animals are considered property and not people, so unless lawmakers change the status of animals, they are going to have to be happy in the zoo.