[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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2020 Vision

Ape Civil Rights

(Rehearsal Transcript)

First aired 19 December 1997

What is 2020 Vision?

Gillian Deacon introduces Robert J. Sawyer. This time, Rob is a 21st-century lawyer; he's waiting for a verdict in a case for which he was the attorney for the plaintiff. He's conducting a class-action lawsuit on behalf of great apes that have been used in medical experimentation.

This is the first case since the United Nations adopted the "Declaration on Great Apes," which holds that all great apes — and humanity is included in that grouping — should have the following inalienable rights:

  1. The Right to Life;
  2. The Protection of Individual Liberty;
  3. The Prohibition of Torture.

Gillian asks how this came about.

Rob explains that, actually, it dates back to her time — indeed, to 1993 — when a group of major thinkers, including evolutionist Richard Dawkins, primate researcher Jane Goodall, and SF writer Douglas Adams, proposed the Declaration of Rights. It took twenty-six years for that declaration to finally be adopted by the U.N., but it now has.

Gillian says she's all in favour of animal rights, but isn't it silly to have such a provision when not even all human beings have the rights to liberty or freedom?

Rob acknowledges this, but says that denying rights to apes won't further the cause of the world's poor and oppressed humans.

Gillian: Why is the lawsuit happening now?

Rob: The reason apes don't talk isn't because they can't understand language. Rather, it's that they don't have the same vocal range we do; they can't make the sounds required for human speech. But my chief witness is a gorilla named Aldo who has had a voice-synthesizer surgically implanted in him. He can speak in a normal human voice, controlling the synthesizer directly with his brain.

Gillian: Fascinating. And what where his first words?

Rob: His first fully formed sentence, after testing the device, was, "I want to be free."

Gillian: Incredible. But in my time, we use apes for medical research. How will that continue? Surely developing a technique that saves hundreds of humans is more important than the life of one chimp or gorilla, even if, with mechanical aids, it can talk?

Rob: By A.D. 2020, we've completed the Human Genome Project — we've mapped out every bit of DNA that makes up a human being, and can simulate almost all biochemical processes on computer, without using living test subjects at all.

Gillian: Is there any opposition in your time to the idea that chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas should have what previously, and perhaps unfairly, have been called basic "human" rights?

Rob: Well, of course, there are religious groups that argue that God created man in his own image, and that apes don't have souls; after all, parrots can talk just fine, and nobody is arguing in favour of them having civil rights. Still, even in your time, you still required parrots to be treated — here's one of those loaded words again — "humanely."

Gillian: What's next for you after this case?

Rob: I'm consulting with the prosecution on a murder case.

Gillian: Murder!

Rob: That's right. A man killed a dolphin — also an intelligent life form — and I'm going to prove that that's just as much murder as is killing a human being, and  — oh, Gill, sorry, I've got to go — the jury is coming back in . . .

(and Rob exits from the frame)

More Good Reading

Rob's CBC column on chimpanzees

Other "2020 Vision" scenarios
Rob's CBC Radio Science FACTion columns
"2020 Vision" press release
Rob on TV — with lots of stills!
Media backgrounder on Rob Sawyer
Radio-TV Interview Report ad for Factoring Humanity
Radio-TV Interview Report ad for Frameshift

Information about Rob's SF courtroom drama, Illegal Alien

My Very Occasional Newsletter

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