Swiss Government Demands Respect for Plant Dignity

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The Wall Street Journal reported in October that an ethics committee in Switzerland has interpreted that country's constitution to require respect for the dignity of plant as well as animal life.

Caddyshack Among the committee's conclusions: it is "morally impermissible" to arbitrarily cause harm to plants, such as "decapitation of wildflowers . . . without rational reason."

All this apparently stems (pun intended) from a constitutional provision that requires respect for the "dignity of living beings."  This seems to have been aimed at limiting genetic engineering, but for the past few years a committee has been pondering the question whether plants have dignity and if so, exactly what that means.  The result was a report called "The dignity of living beings with regard to plants," which carefully considered the question of whether plants deserve moral consideration for their own sake.  Answer: sort of.

The discussion ranged everywhere from simple common sense to the question of what God wants for plants.  Then there was this:

In terms of ratiocentrism there is unanimity that plants do not have the required capacity for reason that entails we must consider them for their own sake. The positions of patho- and biocentrism, as well as the positions of sentientism and non-sentientism, remain open to the possibility of morally considering plants for their own sake. Someone who takes a ratiocentrist position may be either a sentientist or a non-sentientist. Pathocentrists can only be sentientists. A theocentrist position is compatible with both a sentientist and a non-sentientist position.

 Well, obviously.

Decision tree"Sentience" is defined as having the capacity to experience harm or benefit.  Some believe that if something is not sentient, morality is not relevant in dealing with it; others think we should respect even non-sentient life.  Apparently, the committee members had a more fundamental disagreement:  "Not quite half of the members are doubtful, based on current knowledge, that plants are sentient."  Translation: more than half of the members think plants have feelings, or aren't sure whether they do or not.  (Sorry – the members are unsure, not the plants.)

The conclusion on genetic modification was that it's okay "as long as their independence, i.e. reproductive ability and adaptive ability are ensured."  As a result, scientists who want to perform experiments on, let's say, wheat, now have to explain to the government why the experiment won't "disturb the vital functions or lifestyle" of the plants involved.  (There is probably a translation issue there, because even if plants were sentient I don't see how they could have a "lifestyle.")  At least one experiment has been moved to the U.S. because the Swiss would not approve it for this reason.

The WSJ reports that Switzerland also now requires people to take a class before getting a dog, and that aquariums have at least one non-transparent wall so the fish will have some privacy. 

Link: Wall Street Journal