Sunday, October 19, 2008

Flush of Freedom

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.


Karen said...

Although it's one of my favorite cheeses, I'll consider protesting by not buying any Swiss cheese. It'll make a point, save me money, and save calories as well!

However, my question is: Aren't goldfish usually dead before they are flushed down the toilet? I wouldn't be able to flush a live fish down a toilet -- anesthetized or not. I personally believe that if I bring a pet of any sort into my home I'm acknowledging that I'll take care of them until they grow old and die (or, in this instance, maybe get eaten by another fish). I truly wouldn't have the heart to flush a live goldfish simply because cleaning its bowl became inconvenient to me!

It's interesting the emphasis on fish in this law. I understand the need to catch a fish humanely if I'm going to simply toss it back into the water. But how humane is it to catch a fish humanely, simply to let it suffocate to death in the bottom of a boat or get its head whacked off with one swift swoop of a knife?

I think this law was set up more to give attorneys those wonderful loopholes they so love to find!

Patti said...

How about if we all stop wearing our Rolex's. That will really bug 'em. And no more buying any either!

julie said...

this is assuming that all laws and religions deal with rational examination... and didn't "Finding Nemo" teach us that the outcome of an unanesthetized fish being flushed isn't necessarily all bad, (not to mention that the movie taught us how to say "mine, mine, mine" in a really effective way???)

Rabbi Rami said...

Great comments!

If I have to choose between giving up Swiss Cheese or my Rolex, I'll give up my Rolex. Since I don't own a Rolex and do have a packet of Swiss Cheese in the fridge this may seem a bit self serving, but there it is.

And I hadn't thought about Finding Nemo and the message therein. But now that I have, I can't stop. Thanks a lot.

Anyway, I am planning to add Swiss Miss mix to the water in my goldfish tank and see what happens.