The German Cannibal: Armin Meiwes and the moral dilemmas his case creates

War is simply an implicit agreement between parties who engage in it to provide a legal basis to murder that would in other contexts be entirely unscrupulous. What is rape, but sexual intercourse made unpardonable by the rejection of it by the victim? In a broad context, consensus appears to be the basis of legality in many actions that, without agreement, are deplorable, but, with consensus, are understandable.  Like a custom made glove, this legal qualification fits comfortably with the slogans we were told as children: “Do unto others as you want them to do unto yourself”, “To each their own” among others. If consensus is consistent with the legal and moral standards, then Armin Meiwes did not do anything morally or legally wrong. Famously known as the “German Cannibal”, his argument was that his victim had consented to being eaten by responding to an ad. Yet, the story of German cannibal Armin Meiwes shocked and horrified Germans and the world alike – and forced a re-evaluation of what the legal and moral standards were as it regarded cannibalism.

Armin Meiwes

Armin Meiwes

A 41-year old computer technician, Armin Meiwes was long aware of his obsessions, he testified. Shockingly specific, he cited the precise age when his fetish for human flesh began to develop (between 8 and 12 years of age), how his Dad often neglected him as a child, and how his mother was overbearing and discouraging towards him. Residing in the central German village Rotenburg, Armin Meiwes was a member of online cannibal communities, which considering internet niches is not too absurd. Wanting to fulfill his fantasy, the cannibal killer put advertisements on websites for “young, well-built men aged 18 to 30 to slaughter.” According to his recollection of events, that is how 43-year old Bernd Brandes was introduced into his life in March 2001. After meeting, the German Cannibal took Brandes to his home and provided a guided tour of the “slaughter room.”

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Following a sexual romp between the two, cannibal killer Armin Meiwes provided Bernd Brandes with painkillers, schnapps, and a bottle of Vicks cold relief. The first thing, with agreement by Brandes, Armin Meiwes did was sever Brandes’ manhood off with a butcher knife and fried the organ- with a hint of garlic- for both to enjoy. Much to their dismay, however, he overcooked the male appendage and became too burnt to eat. Insult to injury, Bernd Brandes was not even afforded to fulfill his own fantasy before passing. Prosecutors claimed that following this incident, Armin Meiwes stabbed Brandes in the neck multiple times, and left him to die in a warm bath. The German Cannibal then stripped the flesh off the body, and ate parts every day for 10 months. Ultimately, this cannibal killer was arrested by police after an Austrian responded to another one of advertisements of Armin Meiwes inquiring whether it was a joke. The cannibal killer assured him it was not.

German cannibal Armin Meiwes ultimately was given 8.5 years in prison. Evidence provided in his defense included a two and a half video recorded of the proceedings, transcripts and tales from other would-be meals who backed out in the last minute, and legally that cannibalism was not yet illegal in Germany. But the case does raise many questions that need to be addressed: Is cannibalism inherently immoral? Is consensus the great legal equalizer in assigning meanings to cannibalism? What does it reveal that websites are running in honor of Armin Meiwes with advertisements continuing to be posted requesting willing meals? Societies of cannibals have existed since the early days of man. But, the legal and moral implications of how to deal with cannibalism still haunt civilization. “They should go for treatment,” the German cannibal recommends of other cannibals, “so it doesn’t escalate as it did with me.” Perhaps that is too little, too late.


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