Cannibalism, a topic often relegated to horror films and dark historical accounts, occupies a surprisingly ambiguous legal position in many parts of the world. The United States, the United Kingdom, much of Europe, Japan, and other countries do not explicitly outlaw cannibalism. This legal loophole, however, is heavily circumvented by a myriad of indirect laws that effectively criminalize the practice.
In the U.S., for instance, while cannibalism per se isn’t illegal (with Idaho as an exception), Cornell Law School highlights numerous laws that indirectly impede the legal acquisition and consumption of human flesh. These include statutes against desecrating a corpse, outraging public decency, and preventing lawful burial. Such laws provide multiple avenues for prosecuting cannibalistic acts, despite the absence of a direct ban.
Theoretically, if someone were to navigate this complex legal landscape and obtain human flesh without violating any laws, they could consume it without facing direct legal consequences. This bizarre scenario, although sounding like a plot from a dystopian novel, has real-world precedents.
Canadian performance artist Rick Gibson provides a startling example. Known initially for turning human fetuses into earrings, Gibson later ventured into cannibalism as a form of art. He publicly consumed preserved human tonsils and a human testicle hors d’oeuvre, legally obtained from individuals who had them surgically removed. Despite public outrage, Gibson’s actions fell within legal boundaries, leaving authorities unable to prosecute him.
Another case is that of Mao Sugiyama from Japan, who, as an asexual individual, served his surgically removed genitals at a dinner, charging $250 per plate. Initially charged with indecent exposure for displaying the preparation process to attendees, the charges were subsequently dropped, as the event’s nature was fully disclosed to and consented to by the participants.
Adding a twist to Sugiyama’s story, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Culinary Director of Serious Eats, criticized the culinary preparation of the genitals, noting their rubbery texture and suggesting that slow cooking would have been more appropriate. This unusual commentary underscores the sheer oddity of the event.
The absence of specific anti-cannibalism laws often leaves courts grappling with tangential legal issues when confronted with cannibalistic acts. The notorious case of Armin Meiwes in Germany exemplifies this. Meiwes, who found a volunteer willing to be eaten via a cannibalism fetish website, faced legal challenges not directly related to cannibalism but to the surrounding circumstances of his act.
Scary Statistics On Cannibalism
- Historically, cannibalism has been documented globally, including in Fiji, the Amazon Basin, the Congo, and among the Māori people of New Zealand. In some parts of Melanesia, human flesh was even sold in markets. Fiji was once infamously known as the “Cannibal Isles”.
- In recent history, cannibalism has been both practiced and condemned in wars, particularly in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As of 2012, it was still practiced in Papua New Guinea for cultural and ritual reasons, reflecting the complex interplay between tradition and modern perceptions of cannibalism.
- In early modern Europe, a notable form of cannibalism involved the consumption of human body parts or blood for medicinal purposes. This practice peaked in the 17th century, with records indicating that people would consume blood-soaked earth from executions, hoping it would cure diseases.
- Cannibalism has occasionally been a desperate response to famine. Famous examples include the Donner Party in 1846–1847 and the survivors of the 1972 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash. Such extreme situations highlight the survival instinct in dire circumstances.
- Cannibalism can be categorized into institutionalized (culturally accepted) and survival (resorted to in extreme necessity) forms. Institutionalized cannibalism is an accepted practice within certain cultures, while survival cannibalism occurs in life-threatening conditions like famines or shipwrecks. The latter often involves necro-cannibalism (consuming the already deceased), distinct from homicidal cannibalism.
- Within institutionalized cannibalism, endocannibalism refers to consuming individuals from one’s community, often as part of funerary rites. This contrasts with exocannibalism, the consumption of individuals from outside the community, frequently seen as an act of aggression or war triumph.
- Autocannibalism, or self-cannibalism, involves eating parts of oneself. This rare form can be pathological or arise from other motivations like curiosity. Instances of forced autocannibalism, where individuals are coerced into consuming parts of their bodies, have been recorded as acts of aggression or torture.
Laws Around The World Around Cannibalism
Cannibalism is not explicitly illegal. However, laws against murder, desecration of corpses, and abuse of a corpse mean that most acts of cannibalism can be criminally prosecuted. Consent is not a defense against these charges.
The Criminal Code prohibits cannibalism, with exceptions in specific emergencies or as part of a religious ceremony.
Cannibalism is a criminal offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
There is no specific law against cannibalism. However, other criminal laws would apply in cases involving murder or corpse desecration.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Cannibalism is used as a form of punishment, with convicted criminals sentenced to death by being eaten.
Specifically criminalizes the disturbance of peace by treating a dead body in a way that offends the sensibilities of the deceased’s relatives. This could apply to cannibalistic acts.
The Moral Maze of Survival Cannibalism
In the realm of extreme survival situations, one of the most profound dilemmas is the question of cannibalism for survival. This issue not only tests the limits of human ethics but also challenges our understanding of morality under duress. The question is whether survival cannibalism is a forgivable act, driven by an innate desire to live, or whether it remains inherently immoral. This debate delves deep into the essence of moral reasoning, pushing us to ponder if life-threatening circumstances justify setting aside established societal norms and moral codes.
The Psychological Aftermath for Survivors
The psychological impact on individuals who have resorted to cannibalism to survive is a topic of great significance. It raises critical questions about the enduring mental health effects, including trauma and guilt, that survivors may face. This debate is essential to understand the psychological toll of such extreme survival measures and the kind of support systems that might be necessary to aid survivors in coping with their experiences. It’s about comprehending the depth of psychological scars left by such actions and how survivors navigate their post-trauma lives.
Legal Perspectives on Extreme Survival
From a legal standpoint, survival cannibalism occupies a grey area. This topic examines how various legal systems around the world have historically interpreted and adjudicated cases of cannibalism in survival scenarios. By analyzing past legal precedents, we gain insights into the complexities of administering justice in such extraordinary circumstances. This debate questions whether the law can and should differentiate between cannibalism as a desperate survival act and other contexts in which it occurs, perhaps advocating for a unique legal framework for these extreme situations.
Societal Reactions and the Burden of Stigma
The societal perception of individuals who engage in survival cannibalism is another critical area of debate. This topic probes into the societal attitudes and potential stigmatization faced by survivors. It juxtaposes empathy with judgment, examining the ethical and social repercussions of survival actions. The discussion here revolves around the balance between understanding the extreme nature of their actions and the societal impulse to judge such behaviors, exploring how society can reconcile these complex perspectives.
Ethical Training for Survival Scenarios
The debate on ethical training for extreme survival scenarios is increasingly relevant in today’s world. This topic focuses on whether individuals in high-risk professions should be prepared for the moral challenges they might face, including the possibility of cannibalism. The conversation centers on the effectiveness and necessity of such training, debating whether it’s possible to ethically prepare someone for such extreme decisions and how this training might impact their choices in life-threatening situations.
The strange legal status of cannibalism worldwide presents an intricate puzzle. While direct laws against it are rare, indirect legislation effectively makes it a prosecutable offense under various other charges. This legal ambiguity, combined with the moral and ethical complexities surrounding the subject, ensures that cannibalism remains not just a taboo but a topic shrouded in legal and societal intricacies.