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< Back to question Is cannibalism ethical? Show more Show less

Cannibalism - the practice of eating human flesh - is illegal in every country on Earth. Yet, the moral context is far from straightforward: is it always wrong? What about in matters of life and death? Should having the victim's consent impact the way it is viewed?

Cannibalism has only been viewed as unethical in recent times Show more Show less

The practice has a long history spanning cultures, continents and millennia.
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Cannibalism was once believed to be a powerful cure for disease

In sixteenth-century Europe, feasting on the dead was used as a cure for a range of physical ailments. It also created an invisible and unbreakable bond that tied humanity together with a sense of brotherhood.
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Proponents


The Argument

The idea of consuming flesh for nourishment is not a new one. Even today in the 21st century, the number of people who are non-vegetarians overpower their vegetarian and vegan counterparts. Of course, modern civilization restricts itself to just animals, birds and in some cases, insects, never venturing towards the notion of consuming their fellow human beings. The question to be asked is, is the idea of cannibalism so bizarre? As recent as the 16th century, this question was never thought of. Instead, the question that was asked was, what type of flesh should one eat? Aristocrats, priests, royalty, scientists and common folk alike regularly ingested different parts of the recently dead or mummified human body in an attempt to invigorate or rid themselves of various ailments. The society of the time considered human blood, bones and fat to have mystical properties, which may seem revolting now, but they were essential in treating migraines, dizzy spells, bleeding ailments, and bruises. It was even believed that the more violent the death, the more potent the resources. Towards the 1650s, the notion that hot, fresh blood was a guaranteed cure for epilepsy gained prominence, firmly establishing medical cannibalism as an essential part of human life.[1] If recently deceased individuals were considered as prized possessions, mummies were invaluable. 17th-century pioneer of brain science, Thomas Willis created a mixture of chocolate and powdered human skull to help soothe various brain injuries and internal bleeding. King Charles II on the other hand, constantly sipped a solution of alcohol and skull and called it, "The King’s Drops".[2] One of the main reasons why cannibalism was favored during those times was the belief that the human spirit lingered in the remains, enhancing their power as remedies. It was a widely accepted notion that the spirit and the body together made up the soul, the essence of a being. What could be better to heal a fellow human than the soul of his deceased brother or sister? The practice of cannibalism, with such beliefs and benefits, should be considered ethical.

Counter arguments

Just because something was once considered ethical to our ancestors does not make it an ethical practice. For the best example, consider slavery, which was once considered as an ethical and natural practice. Slavery today is seen for what it truly is; immoral and a grievous infringement on human rights. The world is a better place for having abolished it. Cannibalism is the same, if not for moral reasons then certainly for medical ones. The idea of using death to cure life is definitely fascinating. But there is a reason why it is no longer practiced and is instead frowned upon, and in many places considered illegal. The consumption of various human parts allows for the uninhibited transmission of various diseases, effectively negating the initial purpose of cannibalism. Kuru, an incurable and fatal neurodegenerative disorder is an example of such a disease. In the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea, deceased family members were cooked and eaten with the belief that it allowed for the release of their spirits into the afterlife. Women and children were traditionally encouraged to eat the brain, which was the breeding ground for the Kuru disease, and because of which it affected them on a greater scale. The epidemic slowed down only after the stop of the cannibalistic practices, and the last known Kuru patient died in 2009.[3] While cannibalism may have held ritualistic importance and was believed to be a potent cure for several ailments, its medicinal value has not yet been scientifically proven. The risks of cannibalism on human health far outweigh the so-called "benefits". On the grounds that cannibalism hurts people instead of healing them, cannibalism should be considered as unethical.

Premises

[P1] Medical cannibalism has been in existence since the early Renaissance in Europe. [P2] Different body parts were used to cure medical ailments and were believed to have potent mystical properties. [P3} Cannibalism is ethical.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Just because something was once practiced and considered ethical does not mean that it is ethical. [Rejecting P2] Engaging in cannibalism allowed for the easy transmission of diseases that resulted in widespread epidemics. [Rejecting P3] Cannibalism is not ethical.

References

  1. https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/brief-history-medical-cannibalism
  2. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-gruesome-history-of-eating-corpses-as-medicine-82360284/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466359/

This page was last edited on Saturday, 15 Aug 2020 at 16:04 UTC

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