The Consent of the Eaten


Reader Irfan Khawaja passes along this story that deals with contracts and cannibalism. Not for the squeamish, but it raises an interesting question about the limits of consent.

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  1. joe,

    I’m conflicted. Part of me wants to go to Vigilance Matters’ site out of the same morbid curiosity that compels one to rubberneck (no, Vigilance, that’s not a bad word!) at an auto accident, another part is fighting a losing battle to keep my eyes from rolling so far back that my retinas become detached, and yet another wonders why you’re bothering… 🙂

  2. whoa…that’s some hot shit.

    as fucked as it may be, i think people should be able to engage in consensual cannibalism agreements assuming they’re well documented. i don’t see where this becomes a concern unless they’re having an indoor barbeque next door.

  3. as in a concern of people not involved in the penis eating and the slicing and dicing and all that.

    the theme song to “good eats” on the food network just popped into my head. yucky!

  4. dhex-

    OK, call me a statist, but I’m going to have to come down on the side that says no to consensual cannibalism. I know, I know, it’s the victim’s own body, yaddah-yaddah-yaddah, but like Dan Savage said: Consent is only meaningful if it comes from a person of sound mind, and consenting to be killed slowly after consuming your own penis shows that you aren’t of sound mind.

    Now, if we’re talking about a person with a terminal illness consenting to a painless and dignified death (swallow a few pills), that’s different. A person of sound mind might consent to that if the alternative is an imminent and painful death in a state of diminished capacity. But this cannibal killed his victim slowly and painfully, and before doing it they dined on the victim’s penis. So clearly there was no sound mind to give consent.

    Go ahead, call me a statist, but I don’t feel at all immoral about taking an anti-cannibal stance.

  5. This discussion is so “Dangerous Visions”.

    In the not too distant future, regeneration of organs seems quite likely to become a reality. In addition to opening up the whole organ-selling issue (again), this also presents the possibility of recurrent, sexual cannibalism, where death is not a necessary consequence of partaking (just connecting a couple of threads!:-).

    thoreau, are you saying that wanting a thing so badly that you’re willing to die for it necessarily implies insanity? Does the fact that it is done for sexual gratification and not for love, god, country, etc. mean that it is somehow mean and crazy instead of great and passionate? And if so, why? I happen to agree with you in my gut, but I need to answer this question in my head, as it were.

  6. I think anyone can consent to be eaten… but that doesn’t remove the laws against murdering people and eating them.

  7. Mark A.-

    Since you’re pushing for an intellectually satisfying answer, I guess I’m having a tough time giving something completely airtight.

    We can go on a case-by-case basis and say “Consenting to die with dignity when facing a terminal illness is rational. Consenting to a suicide mission to save other lives is rational. Consenting to die slowly and painfully after consuming your own penis is not rational.” And so we can say that the cancer patient and the heroic soldier are of sound mind to make that decision, but the cannibal victim isn’t.

    And then some uber-libertarian purist can come along and start asking all sorts of questions along the lines of “How can you force your own value judgements on somebody else?” And I can argue each of those examples on a case-by-case basis, and then somebody can fire back and demand a principled rationale for drawing the line, i.e. a line where we say “Anything in this category means that a person consenting to it was too crazy to give consent, anything in this other category a person can consent to and still be considered sane.”

    But it probably won’t work. Not being of the more philosophical bent found among libertarians, I don’t know that I can really rigorously handle this. So at some point I’ll have to throw my hands up in the air and say “Oh, just look at it! It’s gross and disgusting and clearly immoral!” And then my LP membership card will be confiscated and I’ll be sent off to the “Santorum Wing” of the libertarian rehab center.

    So I guess I can’t give an intellectually consistent and perfectly airtight argument for why it should be illegal to eat a person who gives his consent. But I still don’t feel bad about it. So go ahead, everybody, call me a statist and strip me of my libertarian credentials. All I ask is that, when you use my LP membership card to roll a joint, let me have a puff of it too. I want to experience the taste of my own membership card as it is stripped away from me and my libertarian existence is ended! 😉

  8. OK, I just thought of an argument:

    Let’s postulate that, no matter how much another person wants to or consents to die, nobody has the right to kill another person except to defend life, liberty, or property, or perhaps to save that other person from an even more painful death (but even then only with the other person’s consent). This allows various loopholes for self-defense, it remains suitably vague on the question of capital punishment (because I really don’t want to wander into that quagmire), it leaves room for assisted suicide, and it rules out cannibalism.

    I guess that wasn’t so hard after all.

    Undoubtedly, the more philosophical types on this forum will find fault with certain aspects of it, and you’ll still hustle me off to libertarian rehab. Oh, well.

  9. Mark.A, you’ll be pleased to know i addressed the Morbid Curiosity part in THIS post, just last week:

  10. I rather agree with Thoreau. My reasoning isn’t entirely sound (and I am open to any arguement that might help illuminate either side more thoroughly), however I believe it is not too different from statutory rape issues in that, there is an arbitrary line where the government decides the relative merit of a given individual’s choice. There are cases where someone under legal age is fully capable of making a rational decision, and likewise, there are cases of the reverse. Perhaps I, too, am a *statist*, but there’s just something too wrong about having intercourse with an obviously immature minor, despite the fact that they might, in actuality, be more emotionally mature than some adults. Perhaps the cannibalism issue with regard to the individual’s capacity to “freely choose” being eaten, is similar.

  11. OK, I’ll say it.
    Eat me!

  12. heh…thoreau, you bad bad statist you! dirty, dirty statist!

    for the record, i’ve never called anyone a statist seriously except for this annoying “green 4 dean 4 lif” guy my friend was dating. and that was the scotch talking more than anything else.

    “consenting to be killed slowly after consuming your own penis shows that you aren’t of sound mind.”

    well, i disagree. i mean, i emotionally agree, but there’s plenty of fringe activity between adults of various backgrounds which seems sick to people not involved. some of it is really gross, some merely odd. most would have been enough to get the participants arrested or interred in a mental health facility for the rest of their life for most of the 20th century, and probably even now if they’re young enough and live in the wrong state.

    but determining the “sickness” of a scenario, even one as extreme as something that ends in murder, does leave a bad taste in my mouth. partially because cannibalism, even if it became wildly popular, would be big with what, maybe 200 people? and i really do think that if people want to engage in this most extreme mortification of the flesh with fully consenting – or fully certifiable – adult participants, it really is no business of ours. if people play this game and can’t document “fred wanted his wang deep fried” then yank em off on a murder charge.

    i keep thinking of various religious orders which use extreme pain, suffering, forced starvation and the like to induce visionary states. as fucking nuts as i think the dominicans or phillipino passion play participants or certain buddhist sects are, i not only respect their devotionary measures but see no reason for anyone to stop them from continuing their particular chase.

    bob flanagan also comes to mind.

    since we have laws against unconsensual cannibalism further expansion seems unnecessary. sort of like legislating against unicorns just in case some crazy scientist figures out how to make some.

    however, it does give new meaning to the phrase “eating peter” doesn’t it? 🙂

    good eats!

  13. Not to put too fine a point on it, but sales or donations of organs are conceptually no different from cannibalism. In both cases, one person attempts to extend, improve, or maintain his own body, by putting within it some part of another person’s body. With cannibalism, the mechanism of entry and incorporation is the alimentary canal. With organ transplantation, it is surgery. That is surely no less cannibalism in contrast with eating parts of someone else, than in vitro fertilization is any less reproduction than doing the nasty with someone else.

    Clearly, we sanction — even praise — the voluntary form of physician-assisted cannibalism. We scorn the involuntary, traditional form, but is that because of its involuntary nature, or simply because it involves low-tech methodology? Should there be any laws against voluntary traditional cannibalism?

  14. James-

    Organ donation is not the same thing as the cannibalism case in question. The victim was killed by the cannibal, and in a slow and painful manner at that. The cannibal caused his victim’s death. If somebody signed a will in the presence of witnesses and said that his body should be given to a cannibal after his death, by whatever means, and the cannibal had no role in the death, maybe that would be different.

    There’s no way I’m going to argue in favor of the right to consent to a slow and painful death for the pleasure of a cannibal. Send me to a libertarian re-education camp.

  15. Finally, meat that gets the PETA approved label!

  16. My “favorite” cannibal of recent times is Jean-B?del Bokassa; other than eating people, he spent approximately 1/4 of his country’s GDP on his coronation (he modelled it after Napoleon’s coronation). In 1979 he had several hundred school children murdered, and the French government, tired of his bullshit, invaded and overthrew him. Since 1990, when France essentially withdrew all support, the Central African Republic (Bokassa named it the Central African Empire for a few years) has been an unstable, violent hell hole.

  17. sexual activity between consenting adults in the privacy of the home, i beleive, was the crux of Lawrence v. Texas. I think the same reasoning applies to the Miewes case, no?

    If Constitutional questions decided by the United States Supreme Court had any bearing on crimes committed in Germany, you might begin to be approaching something resembling a point. As it is, you aren’t.

  18. Phil, when someone is killed and eaten in texas, YOU may resemble the point. As it is…

  19. Cannibalism means never having to say you’re hungry.

  20. I think sexual cannibalism and murder was legalized by Lawrence v. Texas…

  21. He’s not just a cannibal, he’s a picky eater too.

  22. Hey Vigilance-

    Your post contains one glaring error-

    You can hardly be accused of thinking.

  23. sexual activity between consenting adults in the privacy of the home, i beleive, was the crux of Lawrence v. Texas. I think the same reasoning applies to the Miewes case, no?

    Stop by and set me straight:

  24. That gave me both the heebies AND the jeebies….

  25. Virginance nails it: the crux of Lawrence is that a crime ceases to be a crime if there’s a sexual component. That’s why the “I gave her the coke so she’d sleep with me” defense is winning acquittals across the nation.

    Good lord.

  26. Choice quotes from Vigilance Matters:

    “if some pagan…” pagan? You know, that word has an actual definition.

    “wants to claim religion, and self determination, and roe v. wade, to have the right to sautee the remains of her aborted fetus, and even to serve it to her guests as a form of sexual foreplay, who the hell are we to judge? They are still qualified to be scoutmasters, right?”

  27. From a more extreme anti-statist perspective, a person is absoluletly self-sovereign and able to contract for the disassembly and transfer of any or all parts of the body. Even if such a contract seems crazy, the state has no business preventing its *ahem* execution.

    Hypothetically, a parent might choose to sell his life for the benefit of his children. Maybe the cannibal contract is worth more than the present value of his lifetime earning power, or he doesn’t relish the idea of sitting in a cubicle for the next 50 years. It might be possible for the children (as they mature) to regard it as a noble sacrifice. If the parent can secure extra compensation by enduring a painful, slow, tortured death, it is a better deal for the kids.

    Such activity in many contexts may properly cause shame and ostracization. Something almost universally regarded as morally wrong is not necessarily legally wrong. Beyond the discomfort that comes from being forced to acknowledge a repugnant behaviour, there is no harm that I see to anyone other than the parties to the agreement.

  28. I’m going to bookmark this article for whenever I get confused about the difference between “libertarian” and “libertine”.

  29. Everyone take notes. Jean Bart in his post above is apparently supporting an interventionist foreign policy.

  30. Im confused… Jean-B?del Bokassa ate the babys brain or drunk their blood?…

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