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Well, if it weren’t for the close quarters and the sad deterioration of his bones and other body parts, Charles Darwin would be spinning madly in his sarcophagus. Spinning with hilarious joy, that is.

I’ve just read that animal rights activists in several countries are campaigning diligently for apes and chimps to receive virtually all the same legal rights as their supposed human descendants. Yes, the Great Ape Project International, based in Atlanta, and other devoted simian lovers around the world, have rallied around a case in the European Court of Human Rights in Austria involving a 28-year-old chimp named Matthew Hiasi Pan.

And they’re cheered on by a resolution, adopted just last month by a Spanish parliamentary committee, that would give great apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, the right to life, freedom from arbitrary captivity and protection from torture.

If the Spanish court approves the resolution, as it’s expected to do, Spain will be the first nation to extend human rights to mankind’s closest “genetic relatives.” If the European Court in Austria follows suit, it may declare Matthew the chimp a person, and entitled to a legal guardian and funds for upkeep. He already has a lawyer, Eberhart Theuer of Vienna.

And you thought we had problems with illegal aliens?

Matthew’s lawyer says he only wants his client to be treated like a human child, to be declared a person, and granted four of about 50 rights enjoyed by Europeans: the right to life, limited freedom of movement, personal safety and the right to claim property. And of course, a legal guardian.

In this country, he’d be lining up for food stamps, health care, a driver’s license, unemployment insurance, registration to vote (Democrat) – and, maybe later, application for citizenship.

Why not run for public office? According to the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Atlanta’s Emory University, chimps share 98.5 percent of human DNA – roughly the same as some career politicians! The same study claims the ape family shares many of the same characteristics as humans, but not capacity for written language or complex emotions, such as guilt or shame. Sounds perfect for some congressional seats, some court benches and chairmanship of some big oil companies.

Of course, there’s still a bamboo ceiling; he couldn’t run for president if he weren’t born in this country. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been governor of California for two terms, and that’s as far up the food chain as he can go. But some chimps have already been movie and TV stars; over 50 years ago, Cheetah starred with Tarzan, Clint Eastwood co-starred with one, and J. Fred Muggs was a big-hit regular with Dave Garaway on NBC.

Still, some legal analysts warn of a danger in giving apes equal legal status because an animal’s rights could conflict or even supersede a human’s rights in future court rulings, says USA Today. Richard Cupp, at Pepperdine University’s School of Law, having written extensively on animal vs. human rights, says, “I’d call it a slippery-slope-plus.”

I guess so …next thing you know, the flaky California Supreme Court, already declaring that marriage no longer has to be defined as a covenant between one man and one woman, may quickly grant that status with all its benefits to a man and his chimp, a woman and her ape, or – God forbid – two male gorillas!

Landlords and business owners, watch out! You may soon have no right to forbid occupancy or employment to simians, no matter your religious convictions, or even allergies. Many researchers believe the AIDS virus mutated and originated in a certain type of African monkey, so hospitals may have a lot more to worry about than staph infections.

And talk about that “slippery slope” – if primates are ceded human rights, why not cats and dogs? And other pets like hamsters and iguanas and snakes and birds? What if George Clooney’s pet porker sues him for alienation of affection?

Hey, that great humanitarian Leona Helmsley not only left $12 million to her beloved white Maltese, Trouble, but it now turns out she earmarked virtually her entire estate, between 5 and 8 billion, for a charitable trust dedicated to “the care and welfare of dogs”! And not even she demanded that pooches be declared human and granted the same status as American citizens. Obviously, in her view, that would devalue them.

It occurs to me, at the risk of being shouted down by Matthew’s legal supporters, that a novel solution to all this might be: Leave all primates in their natural habitat, where they’ve always flourished, and quit dragging them into the confusion and turmoil of modern society! It didn’t work for Tarzan, and it sure didn’t for Cheetah!

I know this all sounds ridiculous, and it is. As ridiculous as former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s serious suggestion that we ought to look to Europe for some of our legal precedents and judgments. As if our unique and precious Constitution with its Bill of Rights didn’t provide Americans with the best and highest form of jurisprudence ever devised on this planet, creating the best and freest society in history. Look to Europe?

That’s for the dogs. And now, the apes.


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