May 05, 2008

Mangoes, mushrooms, muesli, and marmalade are murder; or, Who will weep for the Brussels sprout? or, Switzerland jumps the shark

On Friday I blogged about recent Swiss legislation that makes it animal abuse to house goldfish in a tank that is transparent all round or for small children to cuddle their guinea pigs excessively. This bit of nitwittery may be only the beginning.

Not to be outdone, the Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology has released a report titled "The Dignity of Living Beings With Regard to Plants" [PDF]. In this document, the Committee admits, right up front:

For some people, the question of whether the treatment or handling of plants requires moral justification is a meaningless one. The moral consideration of plants is considered to be senseless. Some people have warned that simply having this discussion at all is risible. In their view, the human treatment of plants is on morally neutral ground and therefore requires no justification. (4)

The committee was unanimous that it was immoral to harm plants arbitrarily. By arbitrary, they mean "without rational reason," for example:

An example of arbitrary treatment used in the discussion was the farmer who, after mowing the grass for his animals, decapitates flowers with his scythe on his way home without rational reason. However, at this point it remains unclear whether this action is condemned because it expresses a particular moral stance of the farmer towards other organisms or because something bad is being done to the flowers themselves. (9, emphasis in original)

Actually it remains unclear why this action is condemned at all. I have a certain amount of respect for God's creation: the plants and animals he made are "very good" (Gen. 1:31), and so I don't arbitrarily step on bugs that aren't pestering me, or peel the bark of birch trees if I can avoid it.  But I don't demand that others come to the same conclusions as I do, and I definitely draw the line at questioning the ethics of picking flowers or eating my spinach. Something has to be at the bottom of the food chain, after all.

The great majority of the ECNH members holds the opinion that prima facie we do not possess unrestricted power over plants. We may not use them just as we please, even if the plant community is not in danger, or if our actions do not endanger the species, or if we are not acting arbitrarily. A minority of the members is of the opinion that prima facie we may use plants as we please, as long as the plant community or the species is not in danger and we are not acting arbitrarily. (10, emphasis in original)

Spokesmen for the plant community were not available for comment, apparently.

This committee cannot even reach a consensus on whether plants are sentient or not (14). The country that gave us Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Bernoullis, and Johanna Spyri gave us this group of geniuses? They should be embarrassed. Al Mohler gets it right: "The very idea of 'plants rights' indicates a loss of cultural sanity." What comes next? The dignity of sand? The right of a lake not to have stones skipped across it?

(H/T: The Weekly Standard.)