'This week, an animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a series of lawsuits in New York courts in an attempt to get judges to declare that chimpanzees are legal persons. The move is just the first step in a nationwide campaign to grant chimps, dolphins, elephants, and other cognitively advanced creatures rights and free them from captivity, whether it be a zoo or a research lab. Should animals have rights? What impact would “legal personhood” have on scientific research? And can researchers and animal rights advocates find common ground?'
No no and no.
Of course it's possible to legally render rights onto animals. But this is possible only when the concept of "right" is considered in a free-floating way - i.e., as separate from the concept of "responsibility." It's possible only when the concept of "right," in other words, is taken out of its purely human context of morality and considered arbitrarily.
As arbitrary, the concept of "right" retains at least a remnant of its former valor. It simply means, "You can't morally or legally stop me, as an individual person, from doing such and such." But as a citizen with rights, it is incumbent upon me to practice certain responsibilities inherent to a social system, the most basic of those being to obey the laws of the land. If I don't obey those laws, then I lose my rights.
Champions of animal rights advocate natural freedom, that is, freedom without responsibility. A right without a social responsibility to go along with it is no longer a right, it is simply freedom to do whatever nature, and not society, requires of us. The concepts of "nature" and "responsibility" are totally antithetical because to be responsible is to be morally accountable, and nature cannot be held accountable.
If a chimp, a dolphin, or an elephant cannot be held accountable for its actions, then it cannot be granted rights.