Let Great Apes be Apes
Advocating simian rights an attack on human principles
Wesley J. Smith
June 18, 2006

"I am an ape," Pedro Pozas, secretary-general of the Spanish Great Ape Project, declared recently.
No, Pozas wasn't commenting on his appearance. Rather, he was boosting Spanish legislation that would grant human-type rights to apes.

Animals can't comprehend the concept of rights, so why grant them such entitlements? Supporters of the legislation point to our close genetic relationship with chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans as justification. And it is true: The DNA sequence in our respective genomes varies only a little.

But this small variance is responsible for vast differences. Indeed, there are tens of millions of measurable biological distinctions between humans and our distant primate cousins, which is why we have far higher brain capacities, walk on two legs and exhibit the many unique attributes that separate us from all other life on the planet.

But these facts won't matter to most supporters of the Spanish legislation, whose ultimate goal is the implementation of a broad animal liberation agenda that would eventually elevate all mammals to moral equality with humans.

Still, you have to start somewhere, and that's where the Great Ape Project -- the inspiration for the Spanish legislation -- comes in. Co-founded by Peter Singer, the godfather of the animal liberation movement, the project advocates that apes be granted full membership with humans in the "community of equals," thereby granting them the "right to life," the "protection of individual liberty" and the "prohibition of torture."

All animal abuse is clearly wrong and should be prevented through rigorous enforcement of strict welfare laws. This is a special concern when chimpanzees and orangutans are mistreated, given the poignant empathy we feel toward these magnificent animals. But by seeking to grant apes rights, rather than generally promoting their improved care, proponents of the project risk causing great human harm.

Take, as just one example, the purported right against torture. This seems reasonable until one reads the project's definition of torture as "the deliberate infliction of severe pain on a member of the community of equals, either wantonly or for an alleged benefit to others." Clearly, the primary aim here isn't to stop beatings or punish neglect, but when combined with the putative right to personal liberty, is clearly intended to prevent apes from being used in medical research.

A 2005 commentary written by primate researchers John VendeBerg and Stuart Zola in the science journal Nature demonstrates how foolish such a universal prohibition would be. Chimpanzees' genomic similarity to humans' -- the purported rationale -- is precisely the attribute that makes these animals "invaluable" for use in medical experiments.

One exciting example involves the development of revolutionary bioengineered substances known as monoclonal antibodies that offer tremendous potential to treat a wide range of human maladies, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and "virtually any disease caused by a viral infection."

Chimpanzees are essential to this research because unlike other animals, their immune systems do not attack these genetically engineered antibodies. Consequently, the experimental substance remains in the chimps' blood for extended periods, permitting researchers to fully evaluate its safety and efficacy before commencing human trials. Chimpanzees are also necessary in some areas of drug testing.

But perhaps most compellingly, they are the only other animal capable of being infected with the human HIV-1 virus, which for reasons not fully understood, does not usually make them ill. Thus, VendeBerg and Zola write, chimpanzees are "important for testing vaccines aimed at preventing HIV-1 infection or reducing the virus load in infected individuals."

The loss of chimps as crucial medical research aids would be sufficient cause to reject the project. But there is an even more important, if esoteric, reason for refusing to grant rights to apes. The fundamental purpose of the project is to undermine our belief in human exceptionalism -- the principle that human life has unique moral value simply because it is human. Animal liberationists abhor human exceptionalism as bigotry against animals. Thus, by persuading us to include apes in the so-called community of equals, supporters hope to slowly erode society's belief in the unique importance of human life.

These misguided efforts overlook a crucial point: The way we act is based substantially on the nature of beings we perceive ourselves to be. In this regard, our self-concept as the world's most important species is extremely beneficial, because it is both the stimulus for promoting universal human rights as well as the grounding for our distinctly human duty to treat animals humanely.

Spain's Pozas may think of himself as being merely an ape, but the rest of us should reject his absurd moral reductionism. If we truly want to make this a better world, the answer is not to give apes unwarranted rights, but rather, to embrace the unique importance and solemn responsibilities that are essential aspects of living fully human lives.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. He is researching a book on the animal rights movement.


A medical profession founded on callousness to the pain of the other animals may eventually destroy its own sensibility to the pain of humans.
    - Brigid Brophy (Animals, Men and Morals)

Because of their highly sensitive nervous systems and outstanding physical endurance, cats are the preferred animals for particularly painful and long-lasting neurological experiments... devised by plainly unbalanced minds!
   - Hans Ruesch (Naked Empress

Dr. Robert J. White who for over 20 years has been transplanting heads on monkeys is also an advisor to Pope John Paul II on medical ethics! Dr. White, a devout Catholic with 10 children, says animals have no rights. He admits the once-healthy monkeys are paralyzed after the transplants and soon die! He hopes to begin head transplants on terminally ill humans!!!
   - William Flatay (Article in the Scottish Sunday Newspaper)

During the last 80+ years, scientists experimenting on trillions of animals, came up with 900 ways of causing cancer in a mouse...BUT NO CURE TO HUMANS!
   - J.F. Brailsford, MD

We have cured mice of cancer for decades--and it simply didn't work in humans.
  - (Dr. Richard Klausner of the National Institute of Cancer)

This is one of many ways vivisectors try to get their promised cures to humans' illnesses AND money for them: "Urination: find out why an adult male dog lifts his leg to urinate while a female squats."
  - Quoted by the National Anti-Vivisection Society

The American public has been trained to accept anything that sails under the flag of science.
  - Hans Ruesch, Medical Historian

Vivisection is anti-science and anti-health, and is leading us down a path of waste and decay! I encourage people to fight the dangerous dead-end of animal experimentation.
  - Murray J. Cohen, M.D.

It took me a couple of years reading the vivisectors' own literature to convince me that animal experiments have no scientific relevance to human health anyway.
  - Chris DeRose (Last Chance for Animals: "In Your Face")

Your good article about causing serious questions when medical results on men studies are applied to women, opened my eyes: If men and women are so different, how in the world can scientists reach any valid conclusions from the myriad projects and experiments... on different species??? It makes all the animal testing/experimentation pretty futile!
  - Mrs. Milton Bernhart (Reader Forum-AARP Bulletin)

I refer to the tyranny of science. The old horrors are being brought back. Though we no longer torture in the name of God or in the name of the State, we torture in the name of science!
  - John Cowper Powys (Moral Evolution)

We have not lost faith - we have transferred it from God to the medical profession.
  - George Bernard Shaw

In the U.S. today the only cause of polio is the oral vaccine routinely administered to infants in society's drive...to rid the nation of this very same disease!
  - Bill Curry, L.A. Times

Science that fails to embrace all living beings is far more dangerous than any virus!
  - Steve Simmons (Aids Activist)

Warning! Laboratories prefer your pet for torturous research; they say they are easier to handle.
  - Faith (Granny) Senior (Pet Gazette)

It is difficult to entertain a warm feeling for a "medical man" who straps dogs to a table, cuts their vocal cords, and spends an interesting day or week slowly vivisecting or dismembering them.
  - Clare Booth Luce

When evaluated on the basis of real usefulness to humanity, "scientific research" is a fraud, whether intentional or not.
  - William A. Cave, Late Pres. (AAVS)

There are hundreds of paths to scientific knowledge. The cruel ones can teach us only what we ought NOT to know!
  - George Bernard Shaw

We have, in a single afternoon, been able to replicate in humans what took 20 years to do in nonhuman primates. [Referring to breakthroughs in brain imaging techniques. The New York Times].
  - Dr. Walter Schneider, Psychologist

The laboratory animal lives in hell and dies in hell by the millions, every year, time without end!
  - Unknown

Science is nothing more than an imaginary knowledge of the absolute truth.
  - Leo Tolstoy

At Animal Research Institute we are trying to breed animals without legs and chickens without feathers.
  - R.S. Gowe, Director, Animal Research Institute

If a guinea pig may be sacrificed for the sake of the very little that can be learnt from it, shall not a man be sacrificed for the sake of the great deal that can be learnt from him?"
  - George Bernard Shaw (The Doctor's Dilemma)

The recorded tortures of human beings [by their own species!] are seldom of such long duration as those inflicted upon lab animals. Most of lab animals suffer from repeated experiments for months even for years!
  - Unknown