“Tommy” is an ape, actually a chimpanzee, who was left in a grungy cage in a big shack in the yard of a Trailer Sales place in Gloversville, N.Y. after his owner passed away. He was unceremoniously discovered by Steven Wise on October 10, last year and the dreadful condition of Tommy’s digs – a small steel mesh cell on which were strewn soiled bedding and odd toys – was enough to mobilize the human to action on the chimp’s behalf.
On December 2nd, Wise – a 63-year old legal scholar in the field of animal law, walked with his fellow lawyers into the Fulton County Courthouse in Johnstown, New York flashing multiple copies of a legal document which had never before been seen in any of the world’s courts. Under the partial heading of: “The Non-human Rights Project On Behalf of Tommy” the legal petition and memo included amongst its 106 pages a detailed account of the petitoner’s “solitary confinement in a small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed” along with a series of nine affidavits gathered from leading primatologists around the world – each one detailing the cognitive abilities of a being like Tommy – thereby underscoring the psychological and physical ravages of being in such confinement.
A chimp like Tommy is clearly the best example to use in a test case. As Wise et al’s legal memo reads (cf. New York Times Magazine, May 4):
None of this ought to be amazing to us, despite our human chauvinism, given that the chimp and human have the exact SAME cytochrome –c protein sequence! If evolution is false we’d expect the human and chimp cytochrome-c sequences to vary dramatically given that it exhibits 10^93 variations in functionality with other organisms. That is, 10 followed by ninety three zeros!
They are, in effect, our closest non-human cousins. It is this that the skeptical human must bear in mind on considering that Tommy was about to make history as the first non-human primate to ever sue a human captor in an attempt to gain his own freedom. Insane? Hell no! It logically follows if one fully accepts the tenets of Darwinian evolution.
"For example, normal adult humans have the obligation not to torture each other. What characteristics make it possible for a person to have this obligation? For one thing, he must be able to understand what torture is, and he must be capable of recognizing that it is wrong."
As Rachels puts it (p. 192)
"It is wrong to torture someone ...not because of his capacity for understanding what torture is, or for recognizing it is morally wrong, but simply because of his capacity for experiencing pain."