A recent Swiss law, backed by a 1992 amendment to their constitution, grants new rights to all “social animals.” According to the law people looking to buy a dog as a pet have to take a four hour pet care course, anglers must learn how to catch fish humanely; fish must not be kept in aquariums that do not provide them with places to hide, nor can goldfish be flushed down the toilet without first being anesthetized.
When I first read this new ruling I thought it absurd, but I came to see that this was more a matter of guilt than rational examination. I can’t remember how many unanaesthetized goldfish I have flushed down the toilet. But the more I thought about it (and I admit to thinking about it more than I should), the more I felt positively toward the Swiss law.
Take the goldfish conundrum. Prior to the Swiss, I thought about the procedure this way: fish live in water; toilets are full of water; flushing goldfish down the toilet simply freed the fish to swim in less constrictive circumstances. No moral dilemma. No need to anesthetize goldfish.
But I am not a fish, and I can’t pretend to know what the experience of being flushed down a toilet is like. So I tried to test my moral sensitivity by imagining a human equivalent:
Humans live in air; the sky is full of air; if I want to get rid of a human, tossing him or her from an airplane into the sky would simply be freeing him or her to live in a less constrictive environment. No moral dilemma. No need to anesthetize anyone.
But would I like to be tossed from a plane without a parachute? Would I appreciate the spaciousness of my new surroundings, or would I be terrified? And, fairly certain I would be terrified, should my would-be liberator take my terror into account?
It is clear to me that I should be anesthetized before being tossed from a plane. Therefore I, as a liberator of goldfish from tank to toilet to sea, should assume the same terror on behalf of my goldfish and thus refrain from the flush of freedom?
But wait! That is not what the law says. It doesn’t say I cannot flush the fish, only that I cannot flush them without first anesthetizing them. Terrorizing goldfish is still legal, as long as I drug them before doing so. Testing this against my human model, I am horrified: is it OK for someone to throw me from a plane as long as I am anesthetized? No, this cannot be right.
So what are we to do? I would suggest writing to the Swiss government, but, given the economy, I can’t afford the postage. I will register my protest instead by boycotting Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix.* (A protest that saves you money, can’t beat that.)
*I invite you to come with your own protest ideas, and welcome reading them in the comments section of this blog.