Consenting Adults

Three years ago in Germany, Armin Meiwes placed a personal ad on the Internet, seeking "a young, well-built man who wants to be eaten." That's twisted all by itself, but it's not the worst part of the story. The worst part is that someone answered the ad. Bernd Brandes, a man who is said to have had an obsession with pain, allowed himself to be killed and eaten by Meiwes. As a psychiatrist later determined, Meiwes had severe "emotional problems," and last month, he was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison. But some argue that he didn't commit a crime. In fact, the case raises some very disturbing questions for a society like Germany's and ours. The idea of an unchangeable moral law given by God has been abandoned. The idea today is that we're autonomous -- we're free to do whatever we want, as long as we don't hurt somebody else. That puts us in an awkward position when we try to determine just what Meiwes did wrong. By what standard can a modern secularist argue that Meiwes did anything wrong? But didn't Meiwes hurt Brandes? That depends on whom you ask. Meiwes's lawyer argued that this was a case of "killing on request." Brandes wished to die, and Meiwes accommodated him. In Holland and in Oregon, for that matter, it is legal to help fulfill such a wish. Perhaps the secularist could say that he finds killing and cannibalism repulsive. But that's no argument. Some pro-choice activists, when pressed, will admit that they find a procedure like partial-birth abortion repulsive. But they'll fight for it because they believe any restrictions on abortions are a blow to their personal autonomy. So how can they object to the way these two men exercised their personal autonomy, even if it was repulsive? Columnist and physician Theodore Dalrymple makes exactly this point in City Journal. Dalrymple writes, "Meiwes and Brandes were consenting adults: By what right, therefore, has the state interfered in their slightly odd relationship? Of course, one might argue that by eating Brandes, Meiwes was infringing on his meal's rights, and acting against his interests. But Brandes decided that it was in his interests to be eaten, and in general we believe that the individual, not the state, is the best judge of his own interests." Once we stop believing in the sanctity of human life, or in the dignity of each person created in the image of God, or in an absolute moral law, how can we argue with an individual's decision to throw away his own life? How can we ask the state to step in to protect his life, to save him from himself? I'm reminded of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which Justice Kennedy famously wrote, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." Armin Meiwes and Bernd Brandes took that morally bankrupt definition of liberty to its logical -- if extreme and repulsive -- conclusion. And the frightening part is that a world that has largely abandoned the Christian worldview has no meaningful response to give to them. For further reading and information: Theodore Dalrymple, "The Case for Cannibalism," City Journal, 5 January 2004. John O'Sullivan, "Blind Alley of Nihilism," National Review Online, 6 February 2004. Clare Murphy, "Cannibalism: A modern taboo," BBC News, 2 December 2003. Roger Kimball, "Cannibalism: why not?Armavirumque (weblog of the New Criterion), 7 January 2004. Wesley J. Smith, "The wrong idea about animal rights," Rocky Mountain News, 3 January 2004. (Smith discusses PETA's take on cannibalism, which equates it with eating a steak.) Austin Bramwell, "Mutilated Debate," National Review Online, 4 March 2004. (Bramwell uses another example of self-destructive behavior to show the danger of treating all desires as equal.) Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, The Problem of Evil (Tyndale, 1999). Arthur J. Dyck, Life's Worth: The Case against Assisted Suicide (Eerdmans, 2002). Subscribe today to BreakPoint WorldView magazine, which provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends.


Chuck Colson


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