German trial gives new meaning to phrase “Eat me!”

It’s true. You really can find anything—and anyone—on the Internet. Back in 2001 over in Germany a fellow by the name of Armin Meiwes had a hankering for a little human flesh so he did what any self-respecting cannibal would do and posted an ad on the Internet seeking someone who wanted to be killed and eaten. Amazingly enough he got a reply—no that’s not quite right—he got a lot of replies. Something on the order of 200 people who were keen to volunteer:

At the original trial the court heard Meiwes met his victim after advertising on the internet his desire to eat someone.

Investigators found Meiwes had been in internet contact with more than 200 people who shared his fantasies and he claimed in court there were thousands more like him. At least five other people, also saying they were willing to be killed and eaten, went to his house but either backed down or were rejected as unappealing.

For a cannibal he sure is a considerate person. He eats people, but only attractive people who want to be eaten.

Meiwes has admitted several times to butchering and eating – partly in front of a camera – Bernd Juergen Brandes, a 43-year-old engineer he met on the internet.

The accused ate a total of 20kg of his victim’s flesh, accompanied by potatoes and pepper or wine sauce. He froze part of the flesh and buried the rest.

The fact that Meiwes didn’t kill the first person to show up at his door—did in fact respect the decision by some folks to change their minds about being killed and eaten—was the court’s basis for determining him as being quite sane.  Brandes’ sanity, however, is obviously a bit more suspect. How fucked up do you have to be to think when I die I want it to be at the hands of a cannibal who’ll eat me along with some potatoes and wine sauce?

Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter in January 2004 and given an 8 1/2 year sentence, but a Federal judge threw out the verdict as being too lenient and now he’s being tried again. This has prompted the contemplation of a very unusual question:

The court has to determine whether Meiwes committed murder, despite the victim’s purported desire to die.

My libertarian leanings lend me to support the concept that so long as you are not physically harming the person or property of others that you should pretty much be allowed to do what you want even if your choice of activities is self-destructive such as smoking or doing recreational drugs. This includes the option to commit suicide if you have good reasons for doing so—such as being afflicted by a painful, incurable, terminal disease—and are otherwise sane. The question for me then becomes one of can you be sane and still have the desire for someone to kill and eat you? My initial reaction to that question is, no, of course not, but I can’t say with confidence that it’s the correct answer. Simply because I cannot fathom how anyone who is sane could have such a desire doesn’t necessarily mean it’s beyond possibility.

Now that I think about it I can envision a situation where you could be sane and still want someone else to kill and eat you thanks to an old Monty Python Lifeboat sketch in which several sailors that have been adrift at sea for over a month start debating which of their number they should eat in order to survive. It’d be a pretty rare and extreme circumstance, but I could see a situation where one person offers to sacrifice himself to provide food for others when there’s no other choice. Still that’s clearly not the case in the situation described above.

So the question remains: Should Meiwes be charged with murder if Brandes consented to his own death and consumption? It’s a bizarre question to consider as a one time event, but there were 200 more people out there who might have been seriously considering volunteering as well. I’m not entirely sure where the line should be drawn on this one, but it’s probably one of those moral dilemmas where it’s probably best to err on the side of not allowing it as a general rule.

3 thoughts on “German trial gives new meaning to phrase “Eat me!”

  1. I became aware of this case shortly after it made the headlines. While I haven’t followed the case, it’s a safe bet that the European tabloids had a field day.

    As Les pointed out, there are a number of disturbing ethical and legal issues involved.

    I would be very careful about extrapolating from U.S. to German law. As far as I know, the respective legal codes are based on profoundly different principles.

    This includes the option to commit suicide if you have good reasons for doing so

    Unless I misremember and/or the pertinent laws have changed, self-mutilation, including attempted suicide, is a felony according to German law. I have heard of attempted suicidees being prosecuted… On a related topic, I don’t know for a fact if German law allows patients to refuse treatment, life-saving or not.

    I doubt that Brandes could legally consent to be killed. It’s a bit of a circular argument, though. What Meiwes did amounts to some form of homicide, consenting to be killed implies being an accomplice to a crime and enticing somebody to commit a criminal act. So, I don’t see how you could ask to be killed without breaking German law…

    Should Meiwes be charged with murder if Brandes consented to his own death and consumption?

    As to Brandes, it’s an interesting question whether he was mentally competent to ask to be butchered, but it only affects what Meiwes can be charged with.

    As to Meiwes, mental competency and insanity are interesting questions in their own right, but the answers only affect whether Meiwes should be prosecuted or locked away in a psych ward.

    There are very few scenarios in German law where you can kill somebody and get away with it, pretty much all of them grounded in self-defense (which includes the defense of a third party). I strongly suspect that however German law defines ‘murder’, it is the proper charge. If Meiwes was in a mental state now and then that allows a trial to go forward is a tough one. Not knowing the particulars of the case, I’m dubious about the court declaring him sane on the grounds of picking and choosing. A mentally ill person doesn’t have to be stark, raving mad and certain pathologies are entirely compatible with internally rational behaviour.

    The Brandes’s (of which there seem to be more than one might suspect) are either mentally competent, in which case they should know better, or they are not, in which case they should be protected. Likewise, the Meiwes’s are either mentally competent and it’s a no-brainer to prosecute them, or they are not, in which case it’s appropriate to send them to a psych ward for the rest of their natural life.

  2. The song “Mein Teil” by German metal band Rammstein was inspired by the case. Teil means part or piece, but can also be slang for penis. It is similar to the word thing in English.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armin_Meiwes
    —————————
    Mein Teil (My Part [1])

    Lyrics ©2004 Rammstein.

    „Suche gut gebauten 18-30jährigen zum Schlachten“
    Der Metzgermeister

    Heute treff’ ich einen Herrn
    Der hat mich zum Fressen gern
    Weiche Teile und auch harte
    stehen auf der Speisekarte

    Denn du bist was du isst
    und ihr wisst was es ist

    Es ist mein Teil – nein
    Mein Teil – nein
    Da das ist mein Teil – nein
    Mein Teil – nein

    Die stumpfe Klinge gut und recht
    Ich blute stark und mir ist schlecht
    Muss ich auch mit der Ohnmacht kämpfen
    ich esse weiter unter Krämpfen

    Ist doch so gut gewürzt
    und so schön flambiert
    und so liebevoll auf Porzellan serviert
    Dazu ein guter Wein
    und zarter Kerzenschein
    Ja da lass ich mir Zeit
    Etwas Kultur muss sein

    Denn du bist was du isst
    Und ihr wisst was es ist

    Es ist mein Teil – nein
    Mein Teil – nein
    Denn das ist mein Teil – nein
    Yes it’s mein Teil – nein

    Ein Schrei wird zum Himmel fahren
    Schneidet sich durch Engelsscharen
    Vom Wolkendach fällt Federfleisch
    auf meine Kindheit mit Gekreisch

    —————————————————- English

    “Looking for a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered

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