Spain to Grant Human Rights to Apes

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Spain may soon become the first country on earth to grant the equivalent of human rights to apes, chimpanzees, and orangutans.

In a controversial decision, the Spanish Parliament’s environmental committee recently approved resolutions urging the country to comply with the Great Apes Project (GAP), which was designed by scientists and philosophers such as Princeton’s controversial Peter Singer who say that humans’ closest biological relatives also deserve rights. GAP would grant apes, chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos the right to life, to live free from “torture” and to not be involuntarily confined.

“This is a historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades, which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity,” said Pedro Pozas, Spanish director of the Great Apes Project.

The resolution, adopted with cross-party support, calls on the Government to promote the Great Apes Project internationally and ensure the protection of apes from “abuse, torture and death”.

Reactions to the vote were mixed with many Spaniards wondering why the country is focusing on the rights of apes rather than their dramatically slowing economy and violent fuel protests that have been rocking the country lately. The controversial decision is considered especially strange because Spain has no wild apes of its own and reports only about 350 currently living in zoos in the country. The new laws will allow the animals to remain in zoos, but will outlaw their use in medical research, films and circuses.

Spain’s conservative Popular Party complained that the resolution was giving animals the same rights as humans – something that the Socialist Government denies.

However, judging by the country’s current laws on abortion and embryonic research, the government is actually granting more rights to apes than they do to unborn humans. Current law in Spain allows abortions during the first 22 weeks of pregnancy if there is a risk of fetal malformation and during the first 12 weeks in cases of rape. However, women are allowed to abort at any point if they can demonstrate that their mental or physical health is at risk. In addition, a law was passed in 2003 allowing scientists to experiment on human embryos.

Wesley Smith, an American attorney and author who specializes in bioethics issues, called the decision “a disaster for universal human rights and human exceptionalism.”

“Now, we are merely one great ape among several others,” he said, “each with minimum rights based on individual capacities rather than due to being members of the human species.”

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