Is It Legal to Eat Human Flesh?
By most accounts, humans are quite tasty.
- "Like fully developed veal." — William Seabrook, author and journalist who spent time with a cannibal tribe in West Africa in the 1920s.
- "Like pork. It tastes quite good." — Armin Meiwes, a German who ate large portions of a man who agreed to be killed and devoured in 2002.
- "So sweet!" — Egyptian-born fashion model Omaima Nelson, describing the cooked ribs of the abusive husband whom she'd killed in 1991.
Despite these rave reviews, it's probably safe to assume that most people won't be inspired to find out for themselves anytime soon. Which is not surprising.
What is surprising, however, is the fact that in the U.S. there are no actual laws per se — with one exception — that prohibit the consumption of human flesh. In 49 states, you can at least theoretically eat human flesh and drink human blood in full view of a policeman and suffer no legal consequences. But if you try that in Idaho — the one exception — you could spend up to 14 years behind bars.
What the Law Does and Doesn't Say About Cannibalism
The absence of anti-cannibalism statutes (again, for the most part) doesn't mean, however, that the law is looking the other way.
For starters, of course, you can't kill someone and eat them. And it doesn't matter whether the person agrees to be killed (as was the case with Armin Meiwes, mentioned above, who spent eight years in prison for his act). Even with consent, it's still murder.
Second, laws forbid desecration of corpses.
But as Reuters revealed in an extensive 2017 expose, if you really want to buy human body parts, you can probably do so. While the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 prohibits the buying and selling of organs for transplantation, Reuters found that the law on organs used for education or research is lax.
"In most states," Reuters reported, "anyone can legally purchase body parts."
But be forewarned. In addition to questions about edibility, the prices for human body would be a deal breaker for most aspiring cannibals. In 2018, Westword newspaper examined the body trade in Colorado and found, for example, that one purveyor charged $200 for an elbow and $600 for an arm and shoulder.
Some people, however, have found affordable legal ways to indulge in cannibalism: Eat parts of yourself.
That's what a Reddit user calling himself IncrediblyShinyShart did last year after his foot was amputated following a motorcycle accident and the surgeon let him keep it. He invited friends over for dinner, which included tacos made from his foot meat. Their assessment of the flavor: "beefy."
- Can I Sell an Organ? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- 5 Body Parts You Can Legally Sell (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
- Cannibals Are Criminals, Not Zombies: 3 Flesh Eating Acts in a Week (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
- Zombie Law 101: Your Legal Rights and Those of the Undead (FindLaw's Strategist)
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