Ashes and cannibalism

I enjoyed a fine dinner yesterday evening with some colleagues and a visiting speaker, the famous author John Scalzi. Inevitably, the conversation turned to cannibalism.

Specifically, we wondered: If a person — let’s call him Keith Richards — snorts cocaine that is mingled with the ashes of another person, does that constitute cannibalism? (Or is it merely another quirky effect of being British?)

As John notes on his blog, the argument doesn’t seem to clearly lean either way. On the one hand, one is snorting the cocaine with intent to ingest the stuff. Does that intent then extend to the ashes? If so, then Richards is seeking to ingest the ashes of another person — and that sounds like cannibalism.

However, on the flip side, how much ingestion actually takes place through the nasal passages? Is there any evidence that Keith Richards derived nutritional value from snorting the ashes? Doesn’t cannibalism imply digestion? Is a blood transfusion cannibalism? (My understanding is that Jehovah’s Witnesses take just that view, but most of the rest of us don’t). So, maybe it’s not.

Alas, I’m sad to say that my legal education didn’t prepare me all so well for discussions of cannibalism. This is clearly a blot on law schools everywhere. However, I’m sure that Co-Op readers can fill in this blind spot. What do you think, readers? Ashes and cocaine — cannibalism, or merely being British?

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7 Responses

  1. nathan johnson says:

    Just to throw another bone in the stew…would transubstantiation be a type of cannibalism?

  2. Silence is golden says:

    This must be one of the slow weekends.

  3. David Cheifetz says:

    Isn’t there an aphorism that goes somthing like this: ashes to ashes, dust to dust?

    On that basis, since most of us have eaten dust at some point in our lives, I suppose that makes us all cannibals. (Should we be sending out the authorities to arrest baseball players who slide head first and beach volleyball players?)

  4. Matt says:

    This certainly sounds weird, and I’ve heard some people say it was an april fools joke (that seems more likely than not, even for Keith Richards) but it doesn’t seem like canibalism to me at all in any sense- certainly no more than getting a blood transfusion or an organ transplant would be, since in both of those cases you much more directly take in a body part/product than would be the case here. But those are clearly not cases of canibalism, so this isn’t either.

  5. Travis says:

    My thoughts were along the lines of David’s- since the body was already ash, does that make it cannibalism? That reminded me of an old Married with Children episode, where Al cooks a bbq for the neighborhood unwittingly using the ashes of his neighbor’s mother in his grill. Does the condition of the body matter? Does the means of “ingestion” matter? Hmmm.

  6. James says:

    The following website summarizes 310 U.S. court cases and lawsuits affecting children of Jehovah’s Witness Parents, including 100+ cases where the JW Parents refused to consent to life-saving blood transfusions for their dying children: