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Is Cannibalism Legal or Not?

“Like pork. It tastes quite good.”

What do you think this person is referring to? Well, Armin Meiwes, a German, describes the human flesh he devoured after killing a man.

Animals eating other animal species is a common ecological interaction in the animal kingdom. However, what about human cannibalism? Is it legal to eat human flesh?

What Is Cannibalism?

Cannibalism, also known as anthropophagy, can be defined as eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings. This practice has been recorded both in ancient and in current times. The term cannibalism was actually derived from the Island Caribs people, also called the Kalinago, a West Indies tribe known for its supposed practice of cannibalism. Anthropophagy is a practice that can be traced back to early human history.

Starting with the prehistoric ages, evidence was found that the Homo Sapiens and archaic hominins practised cannibalism. The American paleoanthropologist, Tim D. White, claimed that ritual cannibalism was a common practice in early human societies. His theory was based on the de-fleshed Home Sapien bones found in Ethiopia, some butchered ones from the early Palaeolithic sites. Some other theories state that early human beings turn to human flesh as a food source due to food shortages and nutritionally poor environments.

Moreover, cannibalism was also practised in Ancient Egypt as for example, a poem of praise to the King Unas was found in his tomb, which portrayed him as a cannibal. Besides, by the 16th century in Europe, merchants used to plunder ancient Egyptian tombs and sold them for medicinal purposes. The ancient Rome also included cannibalism where people with epilepsy would suck warm blood directly from freshly killed gladiators’ wounds. I believe now you won’t be too shocked to learn that people used to eat their enemies’ hearts and livers as a private vengeance during the Tang dynasty in China.

Cannibalism even continued in the modern era, where for example, during World War II, due to a lack of food supplies and starvation, many soldiers resorted to cannibalism. Some even drank the blood from the slashed throats of the victims. Meanwhile, during the Tokyo tribunal, many Japanese soldiers were accused of eating human flesh. For instance, Lance Naik Hatam Ali, a prisoner, testified how: “the Japanese started selecting prisoners and every day one prisoner was taken out and killed and eaten by the soldiers.”

In the 21st century, Anthony Morley, a British man, invited a person in his house, killed him, removed one of his legs and cooked it. On the other hand, Armin Meiwes is a German man who is known for his act of cannibalism. The latter invited a voluntary victim and attempted to eat his severed penis but ended up killing him to eat a larger amount of his flesh. And, in 2012, a man was shot by the Miami police as he couldn’t stop eating his victim’s face, leaving the latter with only one eye.

But, what does the law say about such inhuman practice?

The answer is it depends on where you live. Let’s take the United Kingdom. According to Samantha Pegg, “there is no real offence of cannibalism in the UK jurisdiction.” She stated that cannibalism could not be criminalized as we all consume some bits of our own flesh, such as nibbling our fingers. Even the German court had to struggle with the case of Armin Meiwes, as there are no legal restrictions against cannibalism in Germany.

Furthermore, even the United States does not have any written laws that specifically address cannibalism, except for one state only: Idaho. And below you will find the legal code of Idaho which addresses the issue of cannibalism:

18-5003. Cannibalism defined – Punishment.

(1) Any person who wilfully ingests the flesh or blood of a human being is guilty of cannibalism.

(2) It shall be an affirmative defence to a violation of the provisions of this section that the action was taken under extreme life-threatening conditions as the only apparent means of survival.

(3) Cannibalism is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not exceeding fourteen (14) years.

However, one strange law in China intrigues us about its approach towards cannibalism. For instance, one rule stipulates that a man cannot eat another man’s wife as a meal. So, does that mean if not the wife, you can eat his daughter or his mother? Does that make cannibalism legally acceptable in China?

However, despite the absence of specific anti-cannibalism statutes, it doesn’t mean that you can kill a person and eat his or her flesh as last time I checked, murder is still considered as an unlawful and punishable act.

And secondly, the law strictly forbids the desecration of a human corpse. The following line describes this law perfectly:

Desecration of a human corpse” means any act committed after the death of a human being including, but not limited to, dismemberment, disfigurement, mutilation, burning, or any act committed to cause the dead body to be devoured, scattered or dissipated; except, those procedures performed by a state agency or licensed authority in due course of its duties and responsibilities for forensic examination, gathering or removing crime scene evidence, presentation or preservation of evidence, dead body identification, cause of death, autopsy, cremation or burial and organ donation.

Someone claimed that “cannibalism is a radical but realistic solution to the problem of overpopulation.” What do you think? Does that sound logical or deranged to you? Please share your comments!

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