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Is cannibalism ethical?
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Cannibalism morality and ethics take a backseat in life or death situations

In rare and extreme examples where survival depends on cannibalism, it is permissible. For example, when survivors of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash of 1973 turned to cannibalism to survive, the mass media admired their fortitude.
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The morality of cannibalism for survival is different from other situation. In life and death situations cannibalism may be ethical to ensure your survival.

The Argument

Charles Darwin in his theory of evolution famously stated that the future of civilization was based on “the survival of the fittest”. This enabled the weaklings to be eliminated to give way for the creation of a highly motivated and driven society. The most basic instinct embedded in each living organism is the need to live. When faced with life-threatening situations, humans revert back to their fundamental needs; food, clothing and shelter. And they will stop at nothing to fill these needs, as seen with the cannibalistic tendencies of our distant ancestors, the Neanderthals. Is it such a stretch to assume that the modern human wouldn’t turn to their old ways in the face of imminent death? Much like our distant neanderthal ancestors, the modern human too resorts to cannibalism in situations where one is left with no other choice. In 1972, the survivors of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, an English rugby team, in their last-ditch attempt at surviving amidst the snow and freezing temperatures, were forced to eat their dead teammates and friends. They did not arrive at this decision easily; being stranded for 72 days, they attempted to eat even the leather of the suitcases and the foam filling of the aeroplane seats to try to prevent the inevitable. Even then, the psychological impact of consuming one’s loved ones is devastating; not to mention how it clashes against one’s religious beliefs. But the physical sensation of their bodies slowly starving and caving in on itself eventually won over all their reservations.[1] Sustenance is necessary to live. In extreme situations where it is in short supply, the morality and ethics associated with gaining such sustenance take a back seat when the survival instinct kicks in. And this isn't necessarily an evil thing; as seen with the example above, the survivors chose to eat their already-dead teammates. They did not resort to murder; they only turned to the last source of food they had left, which was unfortunately their fallen comrades. Should they have starved to death over a taboo placed on an instinct long-ingrained in our will to survive? Are they evil for having finally given in, after doing all they could to avoid it? Perhaps if they had murdered their teammates, they might be. But the poor people were already gone; and maybe one can take solace in the fact that their deaths weren't for nothing if they saved their comrades' lives. Cannibalism is permissible when it is a life-or-death situation in which a person has no other choice. While outright murdering someone in order to eat them is wrong, eating the flesh of someone who has already died of natural causes is grim, but acceptable.

Counter arguments

Human beings pride themselves on their evolution from apes into the rational species that they are today. A more developed sense of morality, ethics and intellect differentiate us from the Neanderthals that we once were. In such a scenario, it is believed that practices like cannibalism no longer have a place in a civilized society. Regardless of the situation or the context, resorting to eating fellow human beings negates the entire process of evolution, taking society back tens of thousands of years. It proves that when it comes down to it, morality and ethics play no role in determining the actions of individuals, which shows no difference between animals and us. Eating a fallen comrade is disrespectful and dishonors them in death, dehumanizing them as nothing more than mere food. For this reason, cannibalism even in such extreme cases is immoral and should be considered a criminal act, like the desecration of a corpse.



[P1] Survival instinct is the basic drive common to all living organisms. [P2] When faced with life-threatening situations, cannibalism is permissible in place of death.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Humans have evolved beyond the primitive instincts of our ancestors. [Rejecting P2] Cannibalism is wrong no matter what the situation.


This page was last edited on Friday, 30 Oct 2020 at 15:10 UTC