April 4th 2009

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: A way out of the economic tsunami?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Senator Steve Fielding's political challenge

COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENT: Rudd Government's radical agenda by stealth

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: The Liberal Party faces moment of truth

QUEENSLAND STATE ELECTION I: Labor's Anna Bligh returns to power

QUEENSLAND STATE ELECTION II: Leading abortion campaigner defeated

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Can free trade theory survive the global slump?

ENVIRONMENT: Global cooling is here: Don Easterbrook

BIOETHICS: Plant liberation: Europe's next cause célèbre?

UNITED NATIONS: Voices for the unborn heard at UN session

OPINION: Granting scientists power to take innocent life

F.D. Roosevelt and Obama's strategies (letter)

Agriculture the best-performing sector (letter)

Increasing populations (letter)

CINEMA: Easy Virtue - Dark side of 'deliciously funny comedy'

BOOKS: SMACK EXPRESS: How Organised Crime Got Hooked on Drugs, by Clive Small and Tom Gilling

BOOKS: JOURNEY TO ETERNITY: Victim of Apartheid: a novel, by Eric Carman

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Plant liberation: Europe's next cause célèbre?

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, April 4, 2009
As Europe increasingly abandons defending the human rights of the unborn, the chronically ill and the elderly, Spain has embraced animal rights - and now some Swiss bioethicists are championing special rights for plants. Bill Muehlenberg reports.

One keeps coming back to the dictum attributed to G.K. Chesterton: "When a man ceases to believe in God, he does not believe in nothing. He believes in anything."

Europeans of course have taken this further than anyone else. The most secular continent on earth, Europe, is also the most radical when it comes to attacking human dignity and the sanctity of life. It is also the most radical when it comes to conferring legal status and rights on non-humans.

Not long ago, Spain declared certain animals to have basic human rights. Now Switzerland has gone even further, declaring that plants may well have inherent moral dignity.

One writer sets the scene: "A few years ago the Swiss added to their national constitution a provision requiring 'account to be taken of the dignity of creation when handling animals, plants and other organisms'. No-one knew exactly what it meant, so they asked the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology to figure it out. The resulting report, The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants, is enough to short-circuit the brain."

I have before me the said document. It is indeed a lulu. Let me offer a few choice quotes from the report:

"The only criterion on which all the members could agree, despite their very differing intuitions, was that we should not harm or destroy plants arbitrarily. Whether concrete ways of acting could be derived from this prohibition on the arbitrary handling of plants, and what they might be, remained unclear.

"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.

"No member takes the theocentric position." Theocentrism means, "The basis for this position is the idea of a God who is creator, and therefore the creative ground of all living organisms. What counts for its own sake is God. All organisms count because of their relationship to God."

The report proclaims: "A clear majority takes a biocentric position." Biocentrism means, "Living organisms should be considered morally for their own sake because they are alive."

The report goes on: "Not quite half of the members are doubtful, based on current knowledge, that plants are sentient. Conversely, a small group considers it probable that plants are sentient. A group of equal size considers this question unanswerable on the basis of current knowledge, while the smallest minority in the committee considers this question as fundamentally unanswerable.

"But it could be that plants nevertheless fulfil the necessary conditions for a kind of sentience. Although plants do not have a central nervous system, the question arises of whether sentience necessarily depends on a central nervous system, and whether disturbances have to be perceived consciously.

"The Committee members unanimously consider an arbitrary harm caused to plants to be morally impermissible. This kind of treatment would include, e.g., decapitation of wild flowers at the roadside without rational reason."

I think you start to get the drift. These Swiss eggheads actually spent countless hours meditating on the moral status of tulips, and the sentience of sagebrush. Not surprisingly, none of the committee members accepted the theocentric view of things, but most advanced the biocentric view.

This is just more Mother Earth paganism, Gaia worship and New Age hokum. While Europe is allowing countless millions of unborn babies to be killed every year, the Euro-secularists are wringing their hands over whether it is morally acceptable to decapitate a dandelion.

Dandelion liberation

One can see a Dandelion Liberation Front opening up soon in major European cities. Mass marches protesting the immoral act of lawn-mowing will soon become commonplace. Of course, any tree-felling will soon become a capital crime - oops, sorry, they don't do the death penalty there.

But given the horrors of speciesism and plant genocide, they might be persuaded to reinstate it. After all, if it comes down to a choice between humanity and a bunch of blackberry bushes, those Europeans sure have their priorities straight.

One can see streets and parking lots being dismantled all around Europe. After all, Joni Mitchell once bewailed the fact that we "paved paradise, and put up a parking lot". So plant liberation movements around the continent will seek to get us back to the garden.

The problem is, the more extreme plant libbers will rule out even being allowed to walk on the grass. We will be forced to remain immobile, for fear of stepping on one poor sentient bit of crabgrass. Indeed, soon the logical call will come to cull human beings so that poor turnips can flourish, and those sentient tomato plants can run free.

Free Willy campaigns will be supplemented by Free Dandy campaigns. One simply wonders why it took those enlightened Europeans so long to realise the precious nature of plant life, and the expendable nature of human beings.

I, of course, have been having a bit of fun here at the expense of some Swiss loony tunes. But there is a very serious side to all this. Indeed, several things can be noted in closing. One, we need to get back to the biblical story line.

The biblical understanding is that only human being have unique dignity and worth, because they are made in the image of God. All of the other created order is to be treated with care and concern, and we are to be good stewards of the rest of creation. But only human beings have souls; only human beings will live forever; and only human beings have been the object of God's love through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.

Two, whenever we jettison God - or in this case, reject theocentism - we end up worshipping the creation rather than the creator. The Apostle Paul of course warned about this in Romans 1. It is a sure symptom of human autonomy and revolt. But whenever man seeks to elevate the creation to the level of the creator, trouble always occurs.

As Vincent P. Miceli SJ wrote in his 1971 book, The Gods of Atheism, "Whoever strikes against God strikes down himself. The atheist denying God degrades himself. The atheist exalting himself above God sinks below the level of animate and inanimate beings.

"Liberation from God is enslavement in creatures. Absolute humanism is the sure road to absolute despotism. Denial of God as truth begets the imprisonment of man in the self-imposed darkness of his own myths."

Laying waste the world

Or, to quote Chesterton once again - this time, a verifiable quote of his from Orthodoxy (1908): "The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them. The Titans did not scale heaven; but they laid waste the world."

Today Switzerland is debating the human rights of dandelions. Who knows what they may be debating tomorrow?

But until they - and all of us - start getting back to a bit of theocentrism, and start easing up on all the anthropocentrism, things will only get a great deal worse, and very soon.

- Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com

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