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Lawyer speaks for animals

Lynn Okura
The Daily Illini

Imagine a courtroom in which a chimpanzee sues a person for compensatory damages in a civil lawsuit. Although this may sound like a dream it is a reality animal rights lawyer Steven Wise hopes to achieve.

During a lecture Tuesday Wise explained why he believes some non-human animals should be entitled to legal rights.

"A huge number of non-human animals are killed and abused — millions in the U.S. alone — and are completely defenseless," Wise said.

Matt Berry, member of Students Improving the Lives of Animals, said he saw the lecture as a great opportunity for the campus.

Berry said that based on recent findings on some animals there is potential for radical change in the way animals are treated.

"However, there are no classes at the U of I offered on this subject — but this is a great way to get a discussion started on campus," Berry said.

Wise believes some animals have a sense of self, or autonomy, similar to human beings. The animals he classified with the highest autonomy are the four species of great apes and bottle-nosed dolphins. Wise categorized these non-human animals into Class One — along with his five-year-old son. He argued that these animals can be categorized with children because they can communicate using language.

Wise said he wants to obtain civil rights for non-human animals because he says people can do almost whatever they want to animals and there is no civil law to protect the animals.

According to Wise, no changes have been made in humans' perception of animals for centuries.

Romans and Greeks such as Aristotle and Plato thought everything existed in a hierarchy and lower species existed only for the benefit of something else, Wise said. For example, plants exist for animals, and animals exist for humans.

"The law of 2003 concerning animals is similar to Roman law," Wise said.

Wise pointed out flaws with the hierarchy theory because he said that at one time not so long ago, slaves were seen to exist only for the benefit of other humans. Wise said animals are also seen as slaves.

"It's unjust to treat animals the way we treat them now," Wise said.

Wise, who has taught an Animals Rights Law class at Harvard, Vermont, and John Marshall Law School said the class is wrongly titled because there is no such thing as animal rights. Wise also said his own title as an animal rights lawyer is incorrect.

"I'm not really an animal rights lawyer because animals have no rights," Wise said. "I'm really an animal protection lawyer."

Wise initially became interested in animal law because he wanted to protect the defenseless.

"I don't see how I could make a larger impact in the world than by bringing justice to the way we treat animals," Wise said.

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