Scientists are now required to treat plants ethically

May 5, 2008 | By | 1 Reply More

In the April 24, 2008 edition of Nature (available online only with a subscription), it is reported that the Swiss Federal Government has issued guidelines to help granting agencies “decide which research applications deeply offend the dignity of plants.” Those studies that fail to treat plants with “dignity” won’t be funded.

This is not a spoof report.  It is real, and this new requirement has many scientists wondering what it could possibly mean to consider the “dignity of plants.”

The Swiss Ethics Committee has offered little guidance to this point, but suggests that genetic modifications causing plans to “lose their independence” by “interfering with their capacity to reproduce” could be suspect.  This leaves many plant geneticists wondering whether there is now a problem with traditional plant hybridization.  For instance, roses require male sterility.  The article raises the question of whether the development of seedless fruits is now unethical in Switzerland.

This article leaves me wondering what new ethics guidelines we’ll see next.  Perhaps there will be a new law requiring the ethical treatment of non-living things, such as rocks, clouds or spoons.  Perhaps there will be new labor restrictions imposed to keep us from abusing our computers by constantly giving them keyboard commands or by making them work more than forty hours per week.

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Category: Civil Rights, Good and Evil, Law, Science, Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Niklaus_Pfirsig says:

    On the surface it may seem silly. But consider this: agri-chemical companies have developed and deployed genetically modified seed grain that produces sterile plants. The purpose for this is very serious. In third world countries that practice traditional agriculture methods, some grain is allowd to mature to produce seed for the next year. The agri-chemical companies consider this a form of theft similar to software piracy, and the genetic modifications are viewed as a security measure similar to DRM for digital music and video. The modifications and seeds are protected by patents.

    There is an old saying, "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." Corporations read it as "Sell a man a fish, you make money. Teach a man to fish, you go bankrupt. But take total control the fisheries, and then sell the fish, you get fabulously rich.

    There is nothing wrong with honest competition or making a reasonable profit. However, we live in a time where the unreasonable profit of a few takes priority over the basic necessities of the many. Is the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company concerned with the health and well-being of the poor in a third-world nation that can't afford to buy food and can no longer afford to grow their own? Not hardly.

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