Animal personhood

The New York Times Magazine has just published an interesting piece on the Nonhuman Rights Project and Steven Wise, whose mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from “mere things” to “legal persons.” (I have previously written on their work here).

Harvard School of Law Petrie-Flom Center offers the following on this issue: “It is widely agreed, among both advocates and opponents of Wise’s work, that granting legal personhood to animals would be revolutionary. imagesI think that this view is mistaken. To understand why, it is helpful to clarify and differentiate between three possible conceptions of what it might mean to be a “legal person”—a term that is often used in imprecise ways. Doing so reveals that animals are already legal persons, and that personhood does not itself count for very much.

“The first possibility of what we might mean by “legal personhood” is that an entity has the capacity to be granted rights. If this is what we mean, however, recognizing legal personhood for animals should not be seen as controversial. Insofar as the constitutions of states clearly allow them to grant rights to animals and other non-human entities, animals are already legal persons in this sense.

“The second possibility is that a legal person is an entity that has been granted some rights—rights that might, but need not, include the power to enforce them. But again, if this is what is meant by personhood, there is nothing radical about granting it to animals. Animals have long held rights in the Hohfeldian sense that humans have had duties to not harm them under various animal protections laws. Continue reading “Animal personhood”