Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Political Correctness of the Week

UPDATE: below

Article 120 of the Constitution of the Swiss Confederation addresses Würde der Kreatur--literally, "the dignity of creation" or, more generally, the "dignity of living beings". It provides (in non-authoritative English translation):
Gene Technology in the Non-Human Field

1 Persons and their environment shall be protected against abuse of gene technology.

2 The Confederation shall legislate on the use of the reproductive and genetic material of animals, plants, and other organisms. In doing so, it shall take into account the dignity of creation and the security of man, animal and environment, and shall protect the genetic multiplicity of animal and vegetal species.
The Gene Technology Law--in German, Gentechnikgesetz or "GTG"--implementing this provision took effect in 2004. In the political process defining the scope of protection, Swiss authorities rely on the Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology, or "ECNH," composed of independent experts in non-human biotechnology and gene technology.

The ECNH has been busy lately, releasing a report of external experts on "The dignity of living beings with regard to plants. Moral consideration of plants for their own sake." Amid some sober majority views (page 20) there's elements of insanity, as reported in the April 15th Courier-Mail (Australia):
Plants deserve respect, a group of Swiss experts says, arguing that killing them arbitrarily is morally wrong - except when it comes to saving humans or maybe picking petals off a daisy.

In a report on "the dignity of the creature in the plant world", the federal Ethics Committee on non-human Gene Technology condemned the decapitation of flowers without reason [page 9], among other sins.

Still, commission member Bernard Baertsche suggested the body weighed such cruel acts on a case by case basis, noting "the simple pleasure of picking the petals off a daisy might suffice as a reason".
More ominously, some fear ramifications for researchers. In particular, Nature magazine views the law and report as a bar to biological science (subscription-only; reprinted here):
The Swiss federal government's ethics committee on non-human biotechnology has mapped out guidelines to help granting agencies decide which research applications deeply offend the dignity of plants--and hence become unfundable.

Although most people might be bewildered that a discussion on how to define 'plant dignity' should be taking place at all, the stakes for Swiss plant scientists are high. The Gene Technology Law, which came into effect in 2004, stipulates that 'the dignity of creatures' should be considered in any research. The phrase has been widely criticized for its general woolliness, but it indisputably includes plants.

All plant biotechnology grant applications must now include a paragraph explaining the extent to which plant dignity is considered. "But scientists don't know what it means," says Beat Keller of the Institute of Plant Biology at the University of Zurich who is running the first field trial--of disease-resistant corn (maize)--to be approved under the new legislation.

"At the moment not even authorities who decide on grants know what the 'dignity of plants' really means," says Markus Schefer, a constitution lawyer at the University of Basel and a member of the ethics committee. "That's why we were asked to deliberate." . . .

The committee does not consider that genetic engineering of plants automatically falls into this category, but its majority view holds that it would if the genetic modification caused plants to 'lose their independence'--for example by interfering with their capacity to reproduce. The statement has confused plant geneticists, who point out the contrast with traditional plant-hybridization technologies, for example in roses, which require male sterility, and the commercial development of seedless fruits.
As bioethics lawyer/blogger Wesley Smith wisely observes:
[T]he Science Establishment asked for this. It has been a prime mover in seeking to stamp out human exceptionalism as the reigning ethic of society. Well, this is what happens when we lose our self concept as a species of unique importance. Once we are knocked off the pedestal, all fauna and flora get thrown into the mix of "creatures" entitled to "rights," even to the point that human beings are the world's villains in some eyes. We are, in effect, eating our own tails as we move from human rights, to animal rights, and now plant "dignity." This is beyond satirizing and, if we are not careful, can stop our own flourishing in its tracks.
Conclusion: Like the bloated EU Constitution rejected three years ago, the Constitution of the Swiss Confederation (1999) is huge: about 200 Articles. By contrast, the United States Constitution is contained in seven Articles and 27 Amendments--there is neither Article nor Amendment numbered 120; indeed, displayed in 20 point type, America's entire Constitution is only about 34 pages. Sufficiently brief and basic to avoid faddish political correctness and stay agnostic on creation, dignity and plants.

In law, as often in life, less is more.


What has happened to the formerly estimable Ben Stein (“Bueller?... Bueller?... Bueller?. . .anyone?”) in view of his remarks on science earlier this month?:
I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you. . . Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.
(via reader Michael Y., John Derbyshire)


Michael Yourshaw said...

Bacteria next?

I’m teaching a class on bacterial genetics this quarter and was disappointed that the Swiss seem to have confined their concern to plants. What about bacteria such as E. coli? These marvelously designed organisms are our oldest ancestors, and should be accorded appropriate dignity. Instead, we imprison these creatures in our intestines where, after a short, miserable life in utter darkness, surrounded by noxious fumes, we abandon them in our excrement to the horrors of sewers and eventual death in euphemistically named “treatment plants”.

I would hope that the Swiss recognize this injustice and quickly provide a remedy. For example they could require that all “dumped” bacteria be given a dignified retirement in the beautiful homes of Swiss government officials.

Carl said...


And all the while, the Swiss whine about conditions at Gitmo!

Anonymous said...

When may I ask will this silliness end?

Some things, though basic, should simply be left not said . . .

unless of course you ink children's books, to wit:

In Article 120, in the Constitution of Drool,

In the cold of the day, in a Swiss gene pool,

He was splashing…enjoying one of Constitution’s great ploys…

When Homo Sentient heard a small noise.

. . .

So you know what I think?. . .Why, I think that there must

Be an E. Coli on the bottom of that speck of dust!

Carl said...



OBloodyHell said...


> ... the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed

[re: scientists] You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The men doing that, Mr. Stein, were not scientists. In no way, no manner, by no definition.

This should be inherently obvious.

No, it does not matter what they called themselves, either.