Steven Wise, Champion of Animal Rights, Is Dead at 73

Steven M. Wise, a pioneering animal rights lawyer who gave voice to clients unable to testify on their own behalf, demanding the same moral and legal entitlements as their owners, keepers and custodians, died on Feb. 15 at his home in Coral Springs, Fla. He was 73.

The cause was complications of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, his child Siena Wise said.

Like John Scopes, the Tennessee teacher of evolution at the center of the so-called monkey trial nine decades earlier, Mr. Wise lost his legal battles — trying in his case, not to upgrade animals as our immediate antecedents on the human family tree but to recognize their personhood as cognitive, emotional and social beings who have the same moral and statutory entitlement to freedom that people do. (Unlike Mr. Wise, John Scopes won on appeal.)

Mr. Wise was the first president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project. He also taught courses on animal rights at Harvard and other law schools.

One reviewer called Mr. Wise’s “Rattling the Cage” (2000) “an impassioned, fascinating and in many ways startling book.”Credit…Perseus Publishing
Mr. Wise continued to argue for the rights of animals in “Drawing the Line” (2002).Credit…Basic Books

He wrote several books, including “Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals” (2000), which the legal scholar Cass R, Sunstein, in a New York Times review, called “an impassioned, fascinating and in many ways startling book”; “Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights” (2002); “Though the Heavens May Fall: The Landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery” (2005), a best seller about an English case that determined that a slave was a person with legal rights; and “An American Trilogy: Death, Slavery, and Dominion on the Banks of the Cape Fear River” (2009).

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