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Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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New IEET Program Promotes Idea of the “Non-Human Person”

February 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.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837