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An Elephant’s Personhood on Trial

The Atlantic: “A legal case involving a famous solitary elephant poses a fundamental question about animals’ rights…Until recently, the idea of elephant personhood would have struck legal observers as a joke. Just a few decades ago, most states still treated animal cruelty as a misdemeanor, like public intoxication or driving without insurance. But an increasing number of Americans take animal well-being seriously: A 2015 Gallup poll found that a majority “are very or somewhat concerned” about animal mistreatment. The legal system has changed in turn. Every state now considers animal cruelty a felony, and laws such as California’s recently passed Proposition 12, which improves living standards for farm animals, are becoming commonplace…”

“We kill millions of animals a day for food,” said [Richard Epstein, a law professor at New York University]. “If they have the right to bodily liberty, it’s basically a holocaust.” Rather than rights, Epstein suggests more animal-welfare protections….There are rejoinders to both points: Expanding rights to women, racial minorities, and children didn’t erode the rights of property-holding white men, and implications for other species are immaterial to the question of elephant or chimpanzee rights. Lawsuits involving other species and other rights would certainly follow—but those deserve to be addressed case by case rather than forestalled en masse because it’s uncomfortable to consider what they imply for animals we eat…”

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