On March 21st, 2020 New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced four “Alert Levels” in the fight to contain COVID-19.
The concept of “Alert Levels” had no specific legal basis; it denoted escalating restrictions to be imposed by a combination of exhortation and legal orders. Level 2 was implemented that day, involving heightened border controls and a request that persons over 70 years old stay at home. Level 4 came four days later.
The shape of the COVID-19 pandemic and legal responses to it are changing rapidly across different contexts. Nonetheless, many of the issues raised in this global symposium will undoubtedly be the subject of scholarly and policy debates for the foreseeable future. Here I synthesize three emerging themes regarding structural challenges and democratic design.
Between the first known case and the first death in Colombia, the government took action to stop the spread of the disease. All of these decisions, insofar as they are considered part of ordinary police powers, will be reviewed by the State Council as to their legality. The State Council has decided to review 400 administrative acts that it has identified as related to the emergency.
Kenya confirmed its first COVID-19 case on March 12th, 2020. In the weeks that have followed, the government has acted to address the pandemic through a number of measures that have also significantly curtailed constitutionally guaranteed rights.
With few exceptions, most cultures put homo sapiens at the center or the apex of creation. Humans, it is generally believed, are distinguished from other animals by our self-awareness and our ability to use tools, to think, reason, and construct meaning and representations about life. The Abrahamic religious traditions are most notable in their anthropocentric vision of human purpose in creation; and although the metaphysics and teleology are sometimes challenged by advances in science and technology, the fact remains that human beings remain the paradigmatic case against which other animals or even artificial intelligence is measured. As a Muslim and a theist, I avow my belief in the unique status of humans; however, as someone who also believes in science and is keenly attuned to the environment, I have a great love for nature and the animal world, and a great desire to protect them.
It is with this, then, that I want to propose to put ethics before metaphysics in considering the moral status of what legal scholars and ethicists call “non-human persons.” In particular, I want to look at cetacean intelligence of orcas, dolphins, and whales to understand the way in which we might classify them as non-human persons which would be given certain rights and protections. Doing so, I argue, would enable us to collapse the bifurcations that influences much of Western thought thereby ushering in a more holistic, ecological and relational approach to ethics and being.
To begin with, I would like to make a distinction clear: I am not claiming that orcas, for example, are morally equivalent to humans, but I am suggesting that we ought to be more cautious with regard to understanding our place in the animal world as a whole, particularly as it relates to the precariousness of life itself. My argument below follows philosophical and ethical reasoning, though this might also be understood in the context of religious texts. The story of Yunus (aka Jonah) and the whale is found in both the Bible and the Qur’an. In short, Yunus felt discouraged that the people of Nineveh did not heed his call to worship God, and so he left in anger. Being cast into the sea, followed by being swallowed by the whale, was ostensibly punishment for his loss of hope and leaving the city without God’s permission; though on another level the exegetical scholars point to the fact of his supplication “O Lord! There is no god but you: Glory to you: I was indeed wrong” (Qur’an 21:87) as instructive of submitting to God’s will and the significance of humility. Indeed, the Qur’an goes on to say elsewhere: “Had he not been of those who exalt God, he would certainly have remained inside the whale until the Day of Resurrection.” (Qur’an 37:143-144). The whale, on this reading, is integral to the Abrahamic worldview insofar as it is the manifestation of God’s power and dominion over creation, as well as his lesson to human beings to remain humble. Read More