If works of fiction taught us anything, it is that imaginary creatures should have rights as well.
Can this be translated to real life and to real rights?
The plot of the recent and highly acclaimed Harry Potter video game, Hogwarts Legacy revolves around goblins’ rights. The books also heavily feature discussion of the rights of intelligent creatures such as elves and centaurs.
J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World is not alone in raising the issue. Carnival Row, which recently matured into season 2 shows the oppression, both legal and social, of creatures that have the same cognitive capacity of humans, yet are from other species.
The Antia Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton touch upon legislation on the treatment of the undead, be it zombies, vampires and the like, while the Jurassic World franchise raises questions about the rights of animals engineered in a lab.
Apart from the entertainment value of such works, is there anything we can learn from them? The question of the rights of imaginary creatures might not be as imaginary as it seems, but a question yet remains.
Cryptozoological creatures are subjects of legislation even today. In Iceland for example, where 80% of the population refuses to deny that elves exist, there is a problem of building roads. Not because they are overly libertarian and get bogged down in the philosophical problem of “who would build the roads” rather than grabbing a shovel.
Also, surprisingly, not because of the eponymous ice of the land. The issue is the mischief played by elves. Constructions had halted before when workers refused to go anywhere near places associated with elves, and there is a law that protects areas associated with the supernatural. Elves thus are protected by law.
They are not the only mythical creatures to enjoy such rights. In Skamania County, Washington it is illegal to hunt and kill Bigfoot, whether it exists or not, it is a protected species, because on the off chance that such creatures roam the wilderness they are rare enough to be endangered. The more practical reasons behind the law was to protect hikers from falling prey to overzealous Bigfoot hunters with a less than perfect eyesight.
In a more sinister case, which would nevertheless make Anita Blake proud, the testimony of a ghost was heard in a murder case in the USA, in the late 1800s. Even more shockingly the last witch trial in the UK took place during WWII. Although it was because in old British fashion the witch laws were not repealed and it was a perfect pretext for punishing the “witch” for revealing state secrets.
You would think that these cases are relegated to the past, however the number of witch trials is increasing, there are still testimonies from beyond the grave (though as a legal technicality and not in supernatural form), and as recently as 2012 there has been an official warning from a local council in Serbia that the regions resident vampire is back in businesses so it is advised to hang up bouquets of garlic.
With the rapid advance of genetics new questions arise about the rights of genetically engineered animals. A woolly mammoth and elephant hybrid is slowly trudging from imagination into reality. Will it have the same protection as other animals? Will it be copyrighted and would belong solely to the company that made it? Would we have to rewrite legislation on endangered species if in the future we will be able to bring back extinct creatures easily?
It is not only a philosophical question. Copyright laws do apply to some GMO products already and there is a strong argument for this given the stellar amount of money and effort spent on development. However what if scientists will be able to doctor the genes of humans, making them more resistant to certain diseases. Or what if parents would be able to choose the colour of their future babies eyes or hair, or even more? Will companies have copyright claims? What if gene edited children want to have children of their own?
What of the increasing possibility of technologies humans can fuse themselves with? Prosthetics legs, hearing aids, even brain-computer interfaces. Would the user own them solely, and who owns their data should any be collected? What if given the number of organs we can substitute through either organ donation, or artificial part, we will have to redefine what it means to be human and what it means for example to cause bodily harm?
There are a lot of questions we should start discussing to be prepared for the future. While we are debating let us nit forget how far we have to go yet before equal rights are secured not only in paper but in practice to those suffering from genocide, torture, war crimes, abuses as minorities and other human rights violations.