The challenge of the ‘cannibal consensus’

Armin Meiwes is, on the surface of things, an attractive, well-dressed, and amiable 42-year-old German.

He is also, by his own admission, a cannibal, who three years ago ate an engineer he had found through the internet.

On Friday, a court will decide whether Mr Meiwes should spend just a couple of months behind bars or much of the rest of his life for his activities.

At stake is whether a person can be tried and imprisoned for murder when his victim had consented to be slaughtered.

‘No death wish’

In March 2001, Bernd-Jurgen Brandes, 43, answered an advert Mr Meiwes had posted on the internet for a well-built male who was prepared to be slaughtered and then consumed.

They met, and Mr Meiwes allegedly took Mr Brandes back to his home in Rotenburg, where the victim agreed to the removal of his penis, which Mr Meiwes then flambéed and served up to eat together.

Mr Brandes was then killed, cut up, and put in the freezer.

The act of cannibalism is not in itself a crime in Germany, meaning that particular legal avenue was closed to prosecutors.

Instead they opted for a charge of sexually-driven murder, combined with a charge of “disturbing the peace of the dead” – despite the apparently consensual nature of the act.

They are seeking a life sentence for the cannibal, whom they argue poses a danger to society.

The defence, for its part, says Mr Meiwes is guilty of nothing more than “killing by request” – an offence which carries a maximum sentence of five years incarceration.

The defence team has sought to prove to the court that not one of the men who met the cannibal was made to go through with anything they were uncertain about.

London-based hotel worker Dirk Moller – one of dozens who allegedly replied to Mr Meiwes’ adverts – was called to testify that he had even got as far as being chained to the bed and marked out for butchery before changing his mind and being released.

The prosecution has conceded that Mr Brandes was an apparently willing victim.

But they insist he was not of a sound mind when he accepted the offer, and moreover, they allege, Mr Meiwes was aware of this.

Mr Brandes’ boyfriend has told the court that Mr Brandes, with whom he said he enjoyed a normal sex life, had no apparent desire to die.

Time for contracts

German experts say that while there may be hundreds of people with “cannibalistic tendencies” in Germany, only a tiny proportion of those would be willing to see their fantasies through to their fatal conclusion as Mr Brandes apparently did.

The kind of internet message boards where Mr Meiwes placed his own request still exist, but the real cannibals on these sites appear to be hard to find.

Messages which request people for slaughter are often written off as jokes by other participants, many of whom are keen to stress that their interest in cannibalism is only a fantasy.

While Mr Meiwes received dozens of responses to his postings, he is believed to have only met four other men beside Mr Brandes, none of whom went through with the act.

There are fears that should the court punish Mr Meiwes lightly in Friday’s ruling, they will unwittingly encourage real cannibals.

Yet if Mr Meiwes is put away for life after Friday’s ruling, his defence lawyer has argued, the true horror of murder will be belittled.

Harald Ermel has said that murder “always happens against somebody’s will”.

Should his client be convicted of little more than killing on request, Mr Ermel advises those planning similar forays into the world of cannibalism to ensure both parties draw up a contract before the act takes place.

Whichever way the court decides on Friday, experts say, the case is likely to end up in Germany’s Supreme Court – and the law books could well need some revision as a result.

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