Since I have been involved in several legal proceedings defending the legal rights of human beings, especially the very young and very old, I read with great interest Mary Esch’s article (“Court weighs ‘personhood’ for chimp,” Oct. 19) regarding the New York State Court of Appeals case whether chimpanzees are entitled to “legal personhood” under the law. This is not a minor case in a backwater court in upstate New York; on the contrary, many animal rights and liberation activists, such as philosopher Peter Singer, have long advanced the position that animals such as chimpanzees and gorillas should not only have rights commensurate with human beings, but, especially with the unborn and newly born, equal to or greater rights, depending on the baby’s physical or mental condition at birth.

During the 1990s, I participated in the legal review of a little-known New York case regarding the rights to physician-assisted suicide. The obscure case, ultimately referred to as Quill vs. Vacco, eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where, at the time, it became the most widely considered legal case regarding physician-assisted suicide in the nation’s history. Constitutional scholars, such as Harvard’s Laurence Tribe and other legal luminaries, thoroughly debated the legal rights of individuals to request the end of life and the authority of a state to permit a physician to assist in ending an individual’s life. The question of personhood was central to the case.

Regardless of one’s views on animal rights or physician assisted suicide, the legal determination of personhood for an unborn, newborn, severely ill, elderly human being or a caged chimp is a far more profound ethical, moral and legal question than Steven Wise is presenting in the case pending before the New York State Court of Appeals.

John M. Kerry