Friday, January 13, 2006

The limits of consent

This has to do with the bizarre case of Armin Meiwes, the German cannibal, who killed and then scoffed a Berlin-based computer specialist who went by the name of Bernd-Juergen Brandes. Meiwes returned to court for a retrial because the supreme court came to the understandable conclusion that his eight-year sentence was a tad on the lenient side.

Y'see, the problem in this case was that Brandes "had yearned to be eaten", apparently - and unsurprisingly, German law isn't geared-up to deal with cases where the victim wants to be killed, dismembered and eaten.

This illustrates the limits of the idea that morality and notions of crime should be completely determined by the question over whether consent was given. With a lot of aspects of human conduct it's the absolutely central issue - the absence of consent in sexual intercourse, for example, completely changes its nature and it becomes rape. And as a fully paid-up liberal, I'm not generally in favour of state intervention to prevent harm to people when they've consented to it - so people who do weird shit like sand-papering each other's genitals or battering nails through their scrotums to pass the time should be left in peace, in my view.

Buuuut - some things are just plain wrong, even if the other party consents to it, and so wrong they require intervention - so if you're looking to draw a line, surely this is a good a place to do it as any? Apart from anything else, if they don't nail this one on the head, can you imagine the amount of time would be wasted with insane not guilty pleas on the grounds that the murder victim was up for being shot, run-over, thrown off a bridge, pulverised with a hammer and then put in a blender, or whatever?

And proving that life doesn't imitate art - only tasteless jokes...
"In a dark suit, and thinner than at his first trial, Meiwes, 44, listened again to prosecutor Marcus Koehler's description of his crime."
Prison food not to his liking, perhaps?

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