Medical professionals should not be allowed to congregate in public; that’s my stance, and I am sticking to it. When they do, conversation invariably tends gruesome topics such as rotas, frustrating colleagues, and human cannibalism — apologies to the other patrons of La Terra in Bath last Saturday.
I suppose I should clarify how we ended up on this sordid topic. It started with the revelation that Golden-Globe-nominated actor Armie Hammer — from such films as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., On the Basis of Sex, and Cars 3 — is now selling timeshares on the Cayman Islands. Now, this is not the most shocking thing about Armie, that would be how it emerged that he was accused of assault, torpedoed his career, and was arranging to eat the ribs of his then1 girlfriend, all in the space of a few short months.
So, Armie doesn’t sound like a terribly nice person, but after dinner pleasantries aside, is it actually illegal to eat human flesh? One would hope that this isn’t a particularly difficult question, but both the United States and the United Kingdom do not have explicit laws against cannibalism. For the sake of simplicity we’ll limit our search to the laws of the land in the United Kingdom, and while I may have some professional familiarity with the Human Tissue Act (2004)2, I am not a lawyer, so none of this should be taken as actual legal advice. Dabble with cannibalism at your own risk.
The first hurdle is one of acquisition, prime human steak doesn’t just grow on trees. In a highly robust and thorough review of all British cannibals listed on Wikipedia3, this appears to have been their downfall. They’ve generally been fans of the do-it-yourself mentality, and so have gone to the steps of securing their own supply. Simply put, murder is illegal.
The next route might be to turn to those who are already deceased. Currently, desecration of a corpse isn’t explicitly outlawed4, but likely any attempt down this avenue falls afoul of laws against preventing the burial of a body, outraging public decency, perverting the course of justice, and removing human tissue without consent. Furthermore, abroad isn’t an option due to laws against importation of human body parts and meat not fit for human consumption.
There are provisions within the Human Tissue Act for people to give posthumous permission about their remains for various purposes set out in Schedule 1 of the Act, however, consumption is not one. This fact also puts the kaibosh on possessing human remains for any particular length of time as well. However, intriguingly there is an exemption for religious relics with regard to some of the particular licensing and storage regulations, but it is not clear how this relates to transubstantiation.
Therefore, we must turn to the living. Regrettably, Section 32 prohibits commercial dealings and rewards in relation to any controlled material, which in this context means anything coming from people living or dead. The Human Tissue Authority also spell out that this includes breast milk5, a reality that doesn’t seem to have caught up to breast-milk marketplace Only the Breast.
So, we can’t dig up, buy, import, or store any material. It is also likely that the attempt to remove ‘material’ from a living person, even with consent, would likely fall afoul of assault legislation. Several times in British legal history there have been limitations on what can reasonably be consented to, such as in the case of R. v. Brown, in which 5 men were convicted for consensual sadomasochistic acts6.
However, what if someone was to remove said material themselves, before serving it up willingly? Self-injurious behaviour isn’t illegal in this country, but I suppose there is the possibility of being sectioned for psychiatric review. However, I haven’t been able to find an example of a extreme body modder being sectioned, which I would see as a reasonable parallel.
Care must also be taken not to fall victim to the common law offence of outraging public decency — with ‘public’ defined as the potential to be seen by two or more people at the time, irrespective of whether they were actually there or not — so make sure you’re in the comfort of your own home.
In summary, could you get away with cannibalism in the UK? I think it’s a solid maybe given an enthusiastic and able participant, willing to give up their ahem tissues gratis.
Now ex girlfriend presumably/hopefully. ↩︎