The U-Bend #32: Does a Pincushion Have Rights?

by Andrew Lee and Robert Lanto

“If only we’d done human Transfiguration already! But I don’t think we start that until sixth year, and it can go badly wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing…”
-Hermione Granger, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

Author’s Note: Alright class, settle down. Now to begin today’s short and abbreviated lesson: Ethics In Transfiguration. Can you please turn to page 35 of your textbook and begin reading.

In today’s moral society, the issue of Transfiguration is a hot topic. Is it right to take a tortoise and turn it into a kettle? What happens if the spell goes wrong? Should you really be having a hybrid rat-cup running around your house? As you can see, there exist a few grounds on which we can look at in Transfiguration. First: Does the transfigured object have rights? Second: Should the wizard transfigure the object in question in the first place? Third: What does Transfiguration mean for wizarding law?

Okay, let’s look at the object that is being transfigured. In the case of inanimate objects, this is difficult to define. For example, if you are changing a pencil to a quill, there is no problem. But if you change a tortoise into a kettle, is that right? Does the tortoise have any say in being changed into a (hopefully) inanimate object? What happens to the tortoise in the meantime is open to interpretation. Does it feel being a kettle or does it only regain consciousness when it is transfigured back? To that degree, is there a limit on how long an object can be transfigured if it was alive before? Also, if you transfigure an inanimate object into a living object, are you creating life? That’s probably why Transfiguration is perhaps one of the most difficult paths in wizardry. Not only would it be hard to change an inanimate object to something living and breathing, but it also would need to be done right.

While we’re on the topic of Transfiguration, what about human transfigurations? This would be more difficult than animal/object transfigurations. Why? Whenever we’ve read/seen these transfigurations, they’ve been with animals that will not panic, or are too slow to run away during the middle of a spell. Humans, the fickle beings that we are, aren’t likely to be willingly transfigured (unless under an extreme circumstance). So, why do they allow it? Maybe back before the Ministry Of Magic and magical law, human (and unethical) Transfigurations were common practice. Perhaps ‘bad’ wizards still practice these types of transfigurations, and a young wizard needs to know how to undo having their foot changed into a kumquat.

What about the wizard who casts these spells? We know that Transfiguration can be used for impractical applications (i.e. turning Malfoy into a ferret) and possibly crime (more on that later). This means that a wizard must use restraint when deciding to use a Transfiguration instead of a charm or a spell. One of the things that is never emphasized in Transfiguration classes is when a wizard should or should not use Transfiguration. It may seem obvious when Transfiguration can be used, but it isn’t that simple. There will be grey areas where it will not be immediately obvious whether Transfiguration is a good idea or not. That is why a wizard needs to be taught that while Transfiguration is a very useful tool, it must not be abused.

Obviously, a lot of thought must have gone into the creation of a set of acceptable rules and practices for Transfiguration. Otherwise, wizards would basically be transfiguring rocks into Galleons. Like all good spells, Transfiguration would need to be approved and carefully supervised. In Hogwarts, we know that McGonagall supervises the students, but what about outside of Hogwarts? Assumingly, this either falls under the Misuse of Artifacts or (in extreme cases) Auror jurisdiction. Also, transfigured objects must have imperfections (besides reflecting the wizard’s personality); otherwise, who is to tell the difference from a real kettle and (hopefully temporary) tortoise-kettle. Well, perhaps a Transfiguration master can create objects that are nearly flawless, but without any discernable differences, how does the magical community prevent massive fraud? This is where the Misuse of Artifacts team and Aurors come in. They basically analyze any suspect or questionable objects. Perhaps there is a spell totell if an object is an original or simply a transfigured copy. When required, these Ministry of Magic officials can dispense justice.

Looking back, it’s easy to say that Transfiguration should be heavily monitored and regulated. But that still doesn’t answer whether the wizard has any right to transfigure objects to begin with. Sure, in some cases of convenience it would be easy to say that transfiguration is vital to a wizard’s livelihood. However, it can also be said that a wizard can just as easily create a charm or cast a spell that would have the same desired effect. Why transfigure a tortoise into a kettle if you can just have a spell that creates hot tea from your wand? It may not be your favorite brand of tea, but at least it’s a lot easier on the tortoise.