IEET > Rights > Personhood > Vision > Directors > George Dvorsky > Technoprogressivism
New IEET Program Promotes Idea of the “Non-Human Person”
Feb 11, 2011  

The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies has announced a new program, Rights of Non-Human Persons, that will argue in favor of applying human-level rights to certain other species.

“Defense of human rights, applied as fully as possible, is one of our core principles,” said IEET Executive Director James Hughes. “As our understanding of what constitutes a “˜person’ continues to grow and change, we’re convinced it is time to expand that definition.”

George Dvorsky, a Canadian futurist and bioethicist who serves on the IEET’s Board of Directors, will head the new program on Rights of Non-Human Persons.

“It is increasingly clear that some non-human animals meet the criteria of legal personhood, and thus are deserving of specific rights and protections,” said Dvorsky. “Recent scientific research has revealed more about animal cognition and behavior than ever before, so we really have no choice but to take this prospect seriously.”

This new initiative will be included within the broader Rights of the Person program, managed by Kristi Scott. “The general thrust of human history is toward the progressive inclusion of previously marginalized individuals and groups,” said Scott. “Now we’re reaching the point where this imperative compels us to cross the species barrier so we can protect some of the most vulnerable and exploited animals on the planet.”

“Species like bonobos, elephants, dolphins, and others most certainly fall into a special class of beings, namely those deserving of the personhood designation,” added Dvorsky. “While we might recognize this instinctually, or even scientifically, it’s time we start to recognize this in the legal sense.”

“The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies is well positioned to work on behalf of this cause,” said Hughes. “Philosophically, the IEET has always recognized the value of looking beyond mere human-ness when it comes to our consideration of ethics and morals. With our non-anthropocentric approach to personhood and our impressive body of advisors, the IEET will work actively to promote the idea of legal non-human personhood and see it come to fruition.”

Rights of Non-Human Persons Mission Statement

Owing to advances in several fields, including the neurosciences, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the human species no longer can ignore the rights of non-human persons. A number of non-human animals, including the great apes, cetaceans (i.e. dolphins and whales), elephants, and parrots, exhibit characteristics and tendencies consistent with that of a person””traits like self-awareness, intentionality, creativity, symbolic communication, and many others. It is a moral and legal imperative that we now extend the protection of ‘human rights’ from our species to all beings with those characteristics.

The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, as a promoter of non-anthropocentric personhood ethics, defends the rights of non-human persons to live in liberty, free from undue confinement, slavery, torture, experimentation, and the threat of unnatural death. Further, the IEET defends the right of non-human persons to live freely in their natural habitats, and when that’s not possible, to be given the best quality of life and welfare possible in captivity (such as sanctuaries).

Through the Rights of the Non-Human Person program, the IEET will strive to:

  • Investigate and refine definitions of personhood and those criteria sufficient for the recognition of non-human persons.
  • Facilitate and support further research in the neurosciences for the improved understanding and identification of those cognitive processes, functions and behaviors that give rise to personhood.
  • Educate and persuade the public on the matter, spread the word, and increase awareness of the idea that some animals are persons.
  • Produce evidence and fact-based argumentation in favor of non-human animal personhood to support the cause and other like-minded groups and individuals.

If you are interested in contributing to this effort, please contact Program Director George Dvorsky. You may also join a mailing list to discuss the concepts and follow the related news feed.


The corollary to giving certain species the rights of personhood is that there then will be the expectation that they will fulfill the basic responsibilities of being a person. (Not that this is properly followed considering we define corporations as persons without defining their personal responsibilities well.)

In terms of protecting these species from exploitation it might be more effective to define our responsibility to the environment as an active responsibility to nurture biodiversity and habitats.

Declaration of Rights for non human species.
In relation to the peaceful co existence of all species on Earth:

Humans have rights in regards to property ownership, freedoms of thought, speech and actions within society and outside society. These rights vary from country to country depending on the religions, cultures and circumstances.
Animals however do not seem to have any rights at all, nor birds, fish or insects, spiders or any of the other species, aside from protections afforded by humans, in relation to human activity only… nothing in the way of actual rights for the defenseless and misunderstood, ‘dumb’ in terms of speech but not in terms of intelligence, nor ability to survive.
It seems to me, that in 1st world countries at least, in the year 2010,  mankind has reached a realisation that animal life, non human life, can be recognized as having ‘minds’ , thoughts and emotions, feelings and abilities, even skills, that should be recognized by humans and since it is not difficult for most people to be able to communicate in some way with other species, then it is time that mankind found it within his empathic nature to designate certain rights to the non human individuals and species that we share our planet with in order that both we and they can have a better chance of long term survival.
On this basis, it should first be recognized that for most non human species the first right should be for them to exist unhindered in their own environments, the eco systems that mankind now understands to be of value, not only to those non human species for their livelihoods, but also of great importance to mankind. These eco systems have been found to be implicit in the wellbeing of our planet’s climate and the ecology of our agricultural systems, not forgetting the valuable natural harvesting resources that they also provide.
There are the psychological and recreational aspects of these eco systems too, their value in industrial terms, tourism, controlled fishing, water resources and natural environmental defense systems or negative weather disaster resource contingencies…even timber.
So it would seem that it is in mankind’s interest to designate the first non human right, as being, the right of a non human species to exist in its known own natural environment.
This needs to be backed up by, the right for those eco systems and environments to be protected (environmental law) from ALL human or other activity (pollution law) that might damage them, followed on closely by the right for those ecosystems to be maintained in natural ways to increase their health and thus assist them to increase in physical size,( conservation laws) ultimately to the point where they surround human habitation again, (as it was when human populations were low), thus enhancing human wellbeing and health.
It should not be forgotten that many humans still live in ‘natural environments’ , native peoples and farmers, however the practice of humans destroying their environments and those around them in pursuit of financial gain to take part in the commercial world should be controlled, to the point where it no longer takes place, because, like it or not, it is those people, along with the greed of commercial organizations offering to buy the produce that can be cheaply bought from these people, that is destroying the last remnants of our natural world, which are also, the last eco systems and habitats remaining for the non human species on earth, those who are , in this regard, being considered as having certain rights of their own. Those rights, conflict with the human rights of the freedom to destroy or utilize our natural eco systems through resource development, collection or supply.

I am fully open to suggestions of all types, criticisms and analysis in order to get this into a form that the majority of non bias open minded people can accept, because I truly believe that it is well past time that mankind formed a consolidated and logical opinion on this subject and made it legally binding, for the benefit of all living things on Earth.

Thank you.        Andy M Beattie ~ Canberra, Australia 14/12/2010.    Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Humans have the right to…. Adult / Male / Female / other / Minors (children) / Babies.
Non Human Species have the right to… Adult / Male / Female / other / offspring.

Humans do not have the right to… Adult / Male / Female / other / Minors (children) / Babies.
Non Humans Species do not have the right to… Adult / Male / Female / other / offspring.

All Species on Earth have the right to… Adult / Male / Female / other / Minors (children) / Babies.
No Species on Earth has the right to…

Some Humans have the right to… Adult / Male / Female / other / Minors (children) / Babies.
Some Humans do not have the right to… Adult / Male / Female / other / Minors (children) / Babies.

Some Species have the right to… Adult / Male / Female / other / Minors (babies) / offspring
Some Species do not have the right to… Adult / Male / Female / other / Minors (children) / offspring.

Eco Systems have the right to be…
Eco systems do not have the right to be….

Living things have the right to be… Adult / Male / Female / other / Minors / Babies / offspring.
Living things do not have the right to be…

Life, regardless of species has the right to …Adult / Male / Female / other / children / Babies / offspring.
Life, regardless of species does not have the right to…

All the above need to be outlined, with reason, referenced in accordance to known facts, as scientifically, zoologically, botanically, ecologically, climatologically or otherwise proven facts, this can include preference and empathy and emotional speculation although it should be noted that empathy and emotion can only be attested in law if the law of the country it is being heard in, has law pertaining to ‘compassionate grounds, such as in French Law and it is also of importance that that same legal system covers the principals of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ as in English law, unlike American law, where everybody and everything is considered guilty until it is proven that an accused is actually innocent.(protection in the form of do and say nothing as animals might)
I am seeking submissions that conform to the above criterion to expand and develop an acceptable declaration that can be submitted to the legal systems for inclusion in first world common law. (Of course very many laws already exist, but many do not too)

Based on the principle of the equal treatment of all persons;Recognizing that scientific research gives us deeper insights into the complexities of cetacean minds, societies and cultures;Noting that the progressive development of international law manifests an entitlement to life by cetaceans;We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and wellbeing.We conclude that:

  Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
  No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
  All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
  No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
  Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.
  Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
  The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law.
  Cetaceans are entitled to an international order in which these rights, freedoms and norms can be fully realized.
  No State, corporation, human group or individual should engage in any activity that undermines these rights, freedoms and norms.
  Nothing in this Declaration shall prevent a State from enacting stricter provisions for the protection of cetacean rights.

Agreed, 22nd May 2010, Helsinki, Finland

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: From Printing Press to Twitter: What makes a technology pro-democracy?

Previous entry: The Turkle Test