A new declaration of rights being put forward by ethicists and scientists asserts that dolphins and other cetaceans should be protected as “non-human persons.” The creators of the declaration are hoping to protect these creatures from poachers and captivity by passing a law that would make cetaceans’ right to life legally enforceable, as it is for humans.
The Guardian‘s article on the declaration reports that dolphins, whales, and porpoises demonstrate levels of intelligence and self-awareness that scientists argue warrant a right to life similar to that of humans. The law must exist, in their eyes, because individual persons should be allowed a decent life — even if they are not human. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society hopes to take the declaration of cetaceans’ rights to the regional, national, and international levels.
A recent lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against SeaWorld sought to protect orcas from slavery as it is described in the Constitution. The Judge dismissed the case on the grounds that, “the only reasonable interpretation of the Thirteenth Amendment’s plain language is that it applies to persons, and not to non-persons such as orcas.” The dismissal demonstrates precisely what the Declaration of Rights would accomplish for cetaceans: by granting personhood to other intelligent species, cases like these would have unquestionable results, and eventually not be necessary at all. Important to consider is the fact that humans are animals, too, so what exactly makes humans more eligible of personhood than dolphins or orcas (or pigs, for that matter)? With the ever-mounting evidence we have of other species’ intelligence, the line we have drawn between persons and non-persons is becoming increasingly unethical and just plain dated.
It is, of course, more complicated than individual animals’ rights. Because it would also protect the marine animals’ communities and cultures, the proposed law would also affect many related marine businesses and industries. The director of the Center for Ethics and Business thinks that it will take more than ten years to successfully convert the declaration into enforceable law because of these complex relationships. But the proof of intelligence is there—in countless scientific experiments and observations—and it is clear that these animals are too conscious of their own lives and of each others’ to be captured and killed in good conscience. And if dolphins’ right to life can become law, the concept of nature’s rights in general has the potential to enter the language of sustainability and equity in coming years. Freedom for the SeaWorld celebrities will be just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of oldbilluk