March 24, 2010

"If I Ate Lab-Grown Human Tissue or Organs, Would I Be Considered a Cannibal?"

I'm adding this to my list of moral questions about things nobody wants to do.

Questions:

1. What else can we put on that list?

2. If you bite your cuticles or the inside of your mouth and keep chewing and swallowing, are you a cannibal?

3. Why does it matter whether a particular word — such as "cannibal" — applies to something, when the real question is whether something is right or wrong?

39 comments:

vet66 said...

Most would be surprised at what they would attempt if hungry and/or desperate enough. Protein is protein and under the right circumstances would save a life as a gift from the recently deceased.

A true gift of life and don't play with your food. Reminds me of the old movie SOYLENT GREEN whose premise is lurking in the bowels of the Obama Health Plan

MadisonMan said...

I bite chew and swallow my cuticles all the time. What -- I'm supposed to spit them out?

raf said...

Why does it matter whether a particular word — such as "cannibal" — applies to something, when the real question is whether something is right or wrong?

Because if it weren't for the cultural value that eating one's neighbor is unspeakably creepy, anyone (with a little practice) could quickly rationalize why it would be justified this time. I am surrounded by people I would not be willing to trust under such circumstances. I think I will concentrate on increasing my unappetizing factor.

MadisonMan said...

Actually, not the cuticles, but the skin around them. I'm eating skin, not nails.

Lem said...

Moreno considers the whole thing a bad idea. “Compared to meat derived from lower animals, I don’t see the nutritional benefit for humans,” he says.

I would make an exception and call it the Donner Party loophole.
My understanding is that they never talked about it, so we will never know if their relatives tasted like chicken.

wv: stookess

Peter V. Bella said...

I bite chew and swallow my cuticles all the time. What -- I'm supposed to spit them out?

Hey, you just gave me an idea. Since warehouses have huge amounts of ashtrays due to people quitting smoking, we could rename them cuticle trays. Sell them to people who bite their nails and cuticles.

Lem said...

Has anybody tried a scab?

well I mean their own scab of course.. someone else's scab would be disgusting ;)

Steve in Toronto said...

Be sure to check out the Arthur C. Clarke short story "The Food of the Gods".

Paul Zrimsek said...

Why does it matter whether a particular word — such as "cannibal" — applies to something, when the real question is whether something is right or wrong?

Or "torture". Pretty good question!

The Drill SGT said...

I think most of the stigma of cannibalism attaches to the breakdown of social order and morality rather than the physical act itself.

I agree with Vet66 on this. let's posit several distinct tiers of horror:

- killing and eating one's family
- same for strangers
- enemies? (many cultures had some of this form)
- (riffing from Vet66, imagine trapped in a plane crash site, high in the Andies, surrounded by corpses, the only food in reach is a chunk of human thigh from an already dead passenger.
- eating lab grown organs
- drinking urine while floating in the liferaft at sea after 10 days in the hot sun
- sampling lab grown human tissue when starving

I think "need" factors greatly into our view of the act.

Leland said...

I would think the "cannibal" issue is a psychological thing, such as, "do you consider it appropriate to eat human flesh for nutrient?"

I don't think people eat their cuticles because they are hungry and consider their fingers a food source. The moral issue of "Cannibal" is that if you consider humans food, then you are a threat to any human as any predator is a threat to prey.

Finally, if you ate lab-grown human tissue for nutrient, then I would consider you a cannibal. If you think "Hmmm, I wonder what human kindey taste's like?"; then you are a step away from deciding between, "do I wait for a lab-grown version or try from another source as it becomes available?"

David said...

If you swallow after oral sex on a male, are you a cannibal?

God, life is complicated. Just when oral sex was completely ok . . . .

Lem said...

Licking a paper cut?

Not that "wrong" I guess.

NewHam said...

If you swallow, how many (potential) people did you consume?

Kylos said...

As I understand, cannibalism can cause an increase in spongiform encephalitis, e.g. mad cow disease. So I would avoid human tissue whether in the lab or in the wild.

NewHam said...

Has anybody tried a scab?

Barack Obama tried a booger on national television and Hillary once wiped a booger on a kid.

Sheepman said...
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Sheepman said...

No it's not cannibalism. There is no taking of human life for food or eating the finite remains of a dead human. The human tissue will continue to regenerate. I guess we could make an analogy to a child drinking it's mother's milk and donating blood or bone marrow.

NewHam said...

George Bush uses Bill Clinton as a hand towel.

c3 said...
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c3 said...

Now I won't be able to get this out of my head

Michael McNeil said...

I remember attending a special showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey in around 1971 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, followed by a talk by the late Arthur C. Clarke where he advocated growing and consuming “Man made Man” as the food that contains exactly the nutrients that men (and women) need — being of our own flesh.

Penny said...

Eat lab-grown human tissue or die from starvation? I'd eat it, and call myself a "survivor". You, on the other hand, are free to call me "cannibal".

I could live with that.

Michael McNeil said...

Consuming lab-grown human flesh isn't going to contribute to “mad cow disease“ if the tissue has not been infected (and has been carefully test to make sure it's not) with the prion agent that causes the malady.

Penny said...

And let me guess...

For my next challenge, I fall down a long and slippery slope?

Roger Sweeny said...

3. Why does it matter whether a particular word — such as "cannibal" — applies to something, when the real question is whether something is right or wrong?

Because that's what Plato did, and we've been doing it ever since, so it must be right :)

John Burgess said...

The question is, "Is autophagy the same as cannibalism?"

TheGiantPeach said...

We will have laboratory produced meat if there is a shift in any of a number of areas, including the economics of meat production, anti-global-warming initiatives, and moral attitudes toward meat.

The economic and moral concerns are obvious. The global warming aspect is that animals produce methane emissions; cultured meat doesn't.

If PETA convinces us all that eating a meal that had a face is tantamount to cannibalism, that argument has a corroding effect on our revulsion toward cannibalism. If we conclude that carnivores are cannibals and we have been carnivores all our lives, what is the resistance to then going whole hog, so to speak?

I wouldn't object morally to culturing human tissue for meat for the same reason that PETA doesn't object to using animal tissue for that purpose. No animals (human or non) were harmed in the process.

The main hurdle at this point is economic. There is a lot of federal largesse going out to livestock producers. Absent that, we'd see laboratory grown meat a lot sooner. The process opens up the possibility of mass producing meats that are now regarded as exotic... zebra or hippopotamus or, the most exotic of all, human.

Michael McNeil said...

There's no technical reason why trees, say, cannot be genetically engineered to grow beefsteaks (or human steaks) as fruit.

Bill said...

Steve in Toronto said...

Be sure to check out the Arthur C. Clarke short story "The Food of the Gods".


You beat me to it.

Word verification: "celluse"!

Cedarford said...

Another reluctance area is "dead bodies". As a teen fishing a river with friends, a dead body of a man came floating along, bouncing along the shallows, looking like it would go further. I said we should wade in, drag it to shore. No one wanted to touch it. I did and dragged it by the feet to shore, where I lacked the strength to drag it all the way up. It didn't look right to leave it with feet on dry land , head still underwater. (face was half gone, though it didn't smell). Finally a friend was cajoled into helping pull it all the way up - but only 1st wrapping a towel around "his" leg then looking away as he donated "his towel" to covering the top 3rd of the dead guy.

Wrapping up the fishing in pre cell phone days, we had to hike out with our catch to call the cops. Then of course the question came up about the fish we caught - white perch, crappies - bring them home to eat or to not eat them. They were in the water with a dead body!!
I ended up eating mine, and one of the pals volunteered to wait by the road to lead cops in when they arrived....only so he could throw his catch back in...

(The guy it turns out had killed himself with a .45 the day before 4 miles upstream. The gun was missing. We got asked about the gun. But just a formality. The cops doubted he hung onto it after shooting himself in the temple all the way down river)

Michael McNeil said...

Word verification: "celluse"!

That's another thing that genetic engineering can do for us — give us the ability to synthesize the bacterial enzyme cellulase, thus providing the capability of directly digesting cellulose — a common component of grasses, wood, and other plant products, that animals such as cows have had to evolve complex multi-chambered stomachs to efficiently culture the bacteria that otherwise alone can accomplish it.

mariner said...
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traditionalguy said...

There are some red line no no's that have always been part of civilized life among people and they include NO canibilism. If saying that truth makes me a racist, too bad.

Fred4Pres said...

If you were starving, it is highly you would eat dead human flesh. Very few would face starvation over that taboo. That is driven by necessity.

What most would not do is kill someone to eat them. Some, however, would. Somethings are worse than death.

Now I understand some in PETA argue that lab grown meats would be preferable to growing and killing animals for meat. I disagree, but I understand the argument. Then again, perhaps we will one day have Star Trek food processors that can use the energy from dilithium crystals to creat yummy meals to order.

Any one would would go out of their way to eat laboratory grown human flesh--is pretty gross. Sorry, I do not think it is healthy to loose the ick factor on that one.

Fred4Pres said...

Cedarford--good story. I would have eaten the fish too. It is a big river and throwing them back would be wasteful.

Reminds me of that Australian movie about the fisherman who found a dead body and kept fishing for a couple of more days (not that you did that). It also has a River Edge twist to it.

jimspice said...

I believe it's the same answer to the question "if I screw a clone, am I committing aldultery?"

William said...

There's an inside joke involved with Swift's A Modest Proposal. Famine was endemic to Ireland and so was cannibalism. Some sociologists theorize that the heavy drinking of the Irish is based on their deep shame of having engaged in this vile practice. The joke in A Modest Proposal was that the Anglo-Irish would find just one baby sufficient. Each member of the Ascendancy could go through the children of several fecund tenant farmers in a single year....The Irish themselves were left to gnaw on the bodies of the old and infirm. The practice of embalming began in Ireland to curtail the practice of digging up the bodies of the recently deceased.

David said...

"The practice of embalming began in Ireland to curtail the practice of digging up the bodies of the recently deceased."

So King Tut is Irish after all?