This Austrian case was reported in Times Online today and has appeared all over the world:
But new ground was broken recently when the Supreme Court of Austria was asked to rule that Matthew Hiasl Pan is a person. That sounds easy enough for even an inexperienced lawyer. But the challenge was that Matthew is a chimpanzee.
An animal-rights group, VGT, had tried to have Matthew declared a person so that a lawyer could be appointed as his guardian when the shelter where the chimp had lived for 25 years closed. Donors had raised money for the chimp, but under Austrian law, only a person may benefit from a scheme such as VGT proposed.
The case failed at first instance and has now been either rejected or dismissed by the Austrian Supreme Court of Justice (English site). It sounds as if the plaintiff may take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.
When I was trying to research the credentials of this story, I had trouble finding Austrian sources. No wonder: of course his name is not Matthew, but Matthias.
Here we are, on the site of the Verein gegen Tierfabriken (the plaintiff):
Anfang Februar 2007 hatte der Obmann des Verein Gegen Tierfabriken VGT für den Schimpansen Matthias „Hiasl“ Pan, seinen persönlichen Freund, am zuständigen Bezirksgericht Mödling einen Sachwalter beantragt. Hiasl war illegal nach Österreich entführt worden, um hier für Tierversuche verwendet zu werden. Er fand Zuflucht im Wiener Tierschutzhaus. Durch die finanziellen Probleme des WTV mit Abschiebung bedroht, beantragte der VGT-Obmann die Besachwalterung, sodass Hiasl in seinem eigenen Interesse gerichtlich agieren und z.B. eine Abschiebung juridisch bekämpfen kann. Der Antrag wurde von 4 international anerkannten Fachleuten und Universitätsprofessoren in Biologie, Anthropologie und Rechtskunde durch Expertisen unterstützt.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, he may not be a human being, but there’s no call to translate a proper name! Otherwise we would hear more about Canute and Socken. (I gather some Nurembergers recently read an article in a Canadian paper headed ‘Her name is Flake’).
LATER NOTE: See comment – the question as to whether a chimpanzee could be treated as a human in this context was not even dealt with – what was important was that the applicant had no right to have a guardian appointed for another person. Here’s the OGH decision.