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IEET > Rights > Personhood > Life > Access > Vision

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Personhood Beyond the Human: On The “Animal Person” as Legal Persons

Saskia L. Stucki

Personhood Beyond the Human

Posted: Dec 31, 2013

On December 7, 2013 Saskia L. Stucki spoke on “The “Animal Person” as Tertium Datur Establishing Nonhuman Legal Personhood” at the Personhood Beyond the Human conference at Yale University.

Saskia L. Stucki, (MLaw) is the coordinator of the doctoral programme, Law and Animals: Ethics at Crossroads of the Law School of the University of Basel. She graduated from law school in 2011 (summa cum laude) and is since working on her doctoral thesis on basic rights for animals. Her area of research comprises the critical analysis of contemporary animal protection law, the theoretical foundation of nonhuman legal personhood and animals’ legal capacity to be subjects of rights as well as the legal theory of animal rights. Saskia Stucki has given several conference talks on Swiss animal law and the concept of animal rights from a legal theoretical perspective. She has authored an article (in German) on the legal personhood of animals (Rechtstheoretische Reflexionen zur Begrundung eines tierlichen Rechtssubjekts, in: Margot Michel/Daniela Kuhne/Julia Hanni (eds), Animal Law—Tier und Recht, Zurich 2012) and is co-editor (together with Prof. Dr. iur. Anne Peters and Livia Boscardin, M.A.) of the anthology, Animal Law: Reform or Revolution?” (forthcoming).
Other areas of interest cover international human rights law and international humanitarian law, with particular regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Personhood Beyond the Human conference was organized by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale University, Yale’s Animal Ethics Group and Yale’s Technology and Ethics Group.

Abstract: The case for nonhuman legal personhood has become increasingly pressing in light of the systematic failure of traditional animal welfare law to protect animals in any meaningful way. The flagrant inadequacy of contemporary animal protection law can, in part, be ascribed to the legal status of animals as objects and property. As animal rights lawyers contend, shifting the paradigm towards a legal status as subjects, i.e. legal persons vested with inviolable rights, would mark a seminal starting point for redressing the fundamental injustices underlying the human­animal relationship. Legal personhood for animals would symbolize and institutionalize the intrinsic value of animals and, furthermore, offer significant procedural advantages. In contrast, the prevailing opinion of philosophers and legal scholars maintains that animals are not and cannot be persons, since this term solely pertains to rational beings, i.e. humans. I will refute this assertion in the course of a legal theoretical examination of the current concept of legal personhood with regard to its applicability to the animal context.

As becomes apparent when analyzing the legal capacity of natural and juristic persons and the history of their legal personification, establishing a third category of legal persons (a tertium datur), the “animal person”, can be consistently argued for. Special consideration will be given to the distinction between the philosophical and legal as well as the descriptive and normative sense of personhood. While the philosophical notion of personhood, referring to human(like) mental properties, is eo ipso burdened with anthropocentric/ratiocentric constrictions, the legal notion of personhood can be (partially) disconnected from the former, particularly with regard to these cognitive features. It will be shown that legal personhood is a normative concept which is abstracted from actual (personal) qualities, and that neither the capacity to reason nor membership in the human species are imperative criteria to being considered a person under law.

Thus, the status of a legal person can be conferred on animals irrespective of their cognitive abilities, rendering the philosophically pertinent “similar ­minds approach” unwarranted from a legal theoretical point of view. Finally, I will address the issue of viability of the proposed sentientist concept of nonhuman legal personhood, placing it within the realm of possibilities. The examples of Swiss and German animal law and their foundational principles, especially the constitutionally recognized dignity of animals, the formal emancipation from legal thinghood, and the emergence of deontological and biocentric elements, indicate that the referenced paradigm shift towards legal personhood for animals is already in its early stages.


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