Matthew Pan’s legal team says they will appeal an intermediate court’s decision to dismiss Pan’s case, which would place the matter before the Supreme Court of Austria. The provincial court affirmed a lower court’s decision on the grounds that Pan did not have a legal guardian who could appeal on his behalf, and he cannot yet sue on his own behalf because he is a chimpanzee.
Pan (left) went by the name of "Haisl" until recently, but is named as "Matthew Haisl Pan" in recent court papers. "Pan" is derived from the Latin name for the species, Pan troglodytes. "Matthew" is originally derived from the Hebrew for "gift of the Lord." "Haisl" is just some German thing, so I’ll call him "Pan."
The objective is to have Pan declared a legal "person," partly to make a point about animal rights, but also to make it easier to support him financially. Pan and another chimp were born in Sierra Leone in 1982 and were allegedly stolen and smuggled into Austria for use in experiments. Customs authorities intercepted the shipment and the two have lived in a shelter ever since. But the shelter has filed for bankruptcy. Donors have offered to contribute to the chimps’ upkeep, but under Austrian law only a "person" can receive such gifts. A foundation could be set up, but activists argue that only a declaration of personhood could protect Pan from being sold and moved to another country where he would not have any legal protections.
A British woman applied to be Pan’s legal guardian, but the lower court, side-stepping the personhood issue, held that a guardian can only be appointed if a person is mentally impaired or in immediate danger. (I guess it decided that "mental impairment" is determined relative to the species in question.) The intermediate court also avoided the issue by holding that without a guardian, there was no one with standing to appeal.
A spokesman for the Association Against Animal Factories, the group supporting Pan’s lawsuit, said that it was not trying to have Pan declared a human being, just a legal "person." The question is, he said, "are chimps things without interests, or persons with interests? A large section of the public does see chimps as beings with interests. We are looking forward to hear what the high court has to say on this fundamental question."
It almost certainly won’t say anything on that question, following the lead of the lower courts. But it is an interesting question that won’t be going away. If we have conferred at least limited "person" status on corporations — which after all don’t really exist — to further certain policy goals, why couldn’t the same kind of thing be done for primates, who share 98% of our DNA, at least for similarly limited purposes? As further evidence of just how similar we are, here’s a recent study concluding that when unrelated chimpanzees share resources, it "primarily consists of adult males allowing reproductively cycling females to take food," also described as a "showing-off" or "food-for-sex" strategy.
Sound familiar to anyone?