Is Eating People Wrong?
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Is Eating People Wrong?

August 16, 2019


>>Hi my name is Allan
Hutchinson I’m Dean of Graduate Studies and
Distinguished Research Professor at Osgoode Hall Law
School York University. My recent book is titled
Is Eating People Wrong? Great legal Cases and How
They Shaped Law in Society. There were four men
adrift in the mid Atlantic with only two tins of
turnips for nourishment, sounds like the beginning of a
joke but it’s the basis of one of the laws most famous
cases, Dudley and Stephens. This tale of cannibalism at sea
still challenges lawyers old and new, to reflect on
an appropriate basis for criminal conviction
and punishment. It’s a basic building
block of common law. In the common law tradition, the
law’s supposed to develop piece by piece, through decisions
of judges in individual cases. Earlier cases precedents and
to be honored in later cases but there’s often
much more at work. The Dudley case shows the common
law’s a less dry exercise in rule application and more a site
for continuing social conflict. It has all the blessings and
blights of any human activity. It involves the dynamic
interaction of personal character,
social contact and historical circumstance; anything might go
and often does. In the Dudley case, sailors
who ate one of their colleagues to survive were convicted,
their defense of necessity was rejected but they only served
a short sentence. The cases back story though
involved an officious police officer, a complicit judge,
a meddlesome politician, a determined lawyer and
a campaigning public. So the common law is a hit and
miss affair, sometimes works and satisfies society’s
appetite for justice and it sometimes doesn’t. So a discreet incident
such as buying a drink with a foreign object
in it, chasing a fox, or transporting a
broken machine part, gives rise to a legal
precedent that becomes one of the long term building
blocks of modern law. Another more pretentious
happenings challenging segregated schooling,
fighting religious persecution and defending criminal suspects
rights, have set the law on a course that shapes
contemporary thinking today. By showing the common law as the
catch as catch can experience that it really is,
it’s possible to grasp that common law is nothing more and as importantly nothing
less than what we make it. Common law is no better or
worse than the lawyers, judges, litigants and commentators
who populate it. So is eating people wrong? Well it’s not the eating
that’s the problem, that’s more a matter of personal
taste and food regulation. It’s killing them first
that’s the real problem.

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