Medicinal Cannibalism and the Power of Implicit Bias

The prevalence of corpse medicine in early modern Europe.

Prepare yourself for a history of Europe that you’ve probably never heard.

In the words of historian Richard Sugg, “For well over two hundred years in early-modern Europe, the rich and the poor, the educated and the illiterate all participated in cannibalism on a more or less routine basis.”

Pharmaceutical products were commonly created from blood, flesh, fat, and bone. Mummy powder was considered a powerful medicinal substance. In some countries, executioners sold convicts’ skin, teeth, hair, and skulls, which led some apothecaries to complain that their prices were being undercut.

This is all very gruesome to modern readers, and it seems strange to say the least. So, why was corpse medicine so pervasive, and what were its moral and ethical limits?

The Rise of Corpse Medicine

As Sugg points out, there were very few instances of medicinal cannibalism before the fifteenth century, but shortly after, physicians started seeking remedies to human ailments within other human bodies.

The sixteenth-century German-Swiss physician Paracelsus argued that it was beneficial to drink fresh blood because it contained vitality. Human flesh was typically prepared as a powder, and it was considered useful for bruising, bleeding, inflammation, fever, or diarrhea. Powdered skull was used to combat epilepsy and other head-oriented afflictions. In other words, pieces of the human body were used to cure a wide range of ailments.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the term “mummy” referred not only to ancient embalmed corpses but to any medicine made from a human source. According to scholar Louise Noble, “The most highly prized mummy was that from a fresh corpse, preferably a youth who had died a sudden and violent death, because of the widespread belief that a swift death captured the body’s healing life force, while a slow death depleted it.”

That conviction—that human bodies were a powerful source of healing—helped erase any possible taboos around the use of corpse medicine. Medicinal cannibalism was widespread and culturally accepted. In fact, even popes relied on corpse medicines. At the time, there was nothing sensational about using human bodies as medicine.

On a basic level, people relied on corpse medicine because, in many cases, they had actually seen it work. Powdered blood can stimulate coagulation (in fact, any powder can), and when fat was applied to wounds, it could provide some protection from infection. Of course, these substances weren’t effective because they came from humans, but they showed results, which convinced people of their value.

A Blatant Double-Standard

Of course, the moment we call something “cannibalism,” it becomes taboo. That word carries with it a justifiably negative connotation. In large part, that is why I and other scholars use it to refer to these European practices—to highlight an irony that surrounds the widespread acceptance of corpse medicine.

At the same time that people across Europe were buying bone powders and slices of human flesh to cure themselves, these same Europeans showed particular disdain for the “cannibalistic” practices of New World natives. Chroniclers recounted (and often fabricated) sordid tales about the “barbaric” practices of other peoples.

For example, Christopher Columbus told tales of the warlike “Caniba” people “who ate men.” Spanish accounts of the Aztecs are filled with stories of cannibalism, despite the fact that researchers haven’t found definitive evidence that this was customary. (Cannibalism may have occurred occasionally to humiliate enemies, but there is also evidence to suggest that Spaniards created the myths.)

The discourse of “cannibalism” was a political tool for European Christians looking for reasons to excuse their invasion of the Americas, Africa, and other parts of the world. It seemed to be undeniable evidence of others’ “savagery” and gave license to the so-called “civilizing mission.” Meanwhile, Europeans’ own medicinal practices escaped the label of “cannibalism” and fell under the benign labels of “mummy” or, simply, “medicine.”

Some early modern writers were aware of this hypocrisy. In his essay “Of Cannibals,” Michel de Montaigne pointed out the European double standard that “physicians make no bones of employing [dead carcasses] to all sorts of use.”

He continued, “…everyone gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country,” highlighting the fact that many Europeans never considered that they condemned people for actions that weren’t radically different from their own.

I hope I don’t have to make this clear, but I will: I’m not endorsing cannibalism or corpse medicine. My essential point is to draw attention to the fact that similar practices—consuming parts of a human corpse—received distinct labels across different cultures, and people who freely consumed “mummy” condemned those branded as “cannibals.”

US BISHOPS DISCOURAGE CATHOLICS FROM EATING HUMAN FLESH IF ALTERNATIVES AVAILABLE

A satirical take on the bishops’ response

Author John Zmirak takes a satirical look at the recent moral interpretation of the U.S. bishops concerning abortion-tainted vaccines.


In a bold act of moral courage, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a statement March 2 encouraging Catholics to avoid eating human flesh, if supermarkets and restaurants offer alternatives.

In Thursday’s statement, Bp. Kevin Rhoades, chairman of the conference’s Committee on Doctrine, and Abp. Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the conference’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, recommended Catholics eat at Chick-Fil-A, Wendy’s or Chipotle over fast-food restaurants that admit they serve human flesh obtained from Planned Parenthood.

‘Li’l Snackers Mystery Veal’

“The approval of ‘Li’l Snackers Mystery Veal’ for sale in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of consuming human flesh, especially when it is only available thanks to homicide,” the bishops wrote in their statement.

This has prompted criticism from a number of Catholic groups, including the Catholic archdiocese of New Orleans, which last week urged people to avoid having “Li’l Snackers,” calling it “morally compromised.”

The guidance was at odds with The Vatican, which in December declared that it is “morally acceptable” for Roman Catholics to eat “Li’l Snackers,” except on Fridays in Lent.

Bishop Rhoades and Abp. Naumann said that when “ethically irreproachable” protein is not available, it is morally acceptable for Catholics to enjoy “Li’l Snackers.”

However, they urged Catholics to try and choose meat products containing the lowest percentage of human flesh when possible.

Fighting Hunger by Eating Meat

“Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a meat source, pork, beef or chicken should be chosen over ‘Li’l Snackers,'” the bishops continued.

“While we should continue to insist that meat companies entirely stop selling abortion-derived meat products, given the worldwide suffering that hunger causes, we affirm again that eating meat can be an act of charity that serves the common good,” they added.

OK, OK …US Bishops Discourage Catholics From Receiving Johnson & Johnson Vaccine If Alternatives Available Over Abortion Link.GabTweet

As you might have guessed, that wasn’t quite a genuine news story. In fact, I created it by changing just a few words here and there in a news report. It came from my paper of record, The Epoch Times: “US Bishops Discourage Catholics From Receiving Johnson & Johnson Vaccine If Alternatives Available Over Abortion Link.”

Why do that? Not for a chance to engage in macabre humor. At least, not just for that reason. I wasn’t that warped by watching The Addams Family as a kid.

Because We Are Neither Hot Nor Cold

No, I wanted to highlight the limp, wet-noodle approach the U.S. bishops have taken to a serious moral issue. Now, solid pro-life Christians — as all Catholics ought to be, no matter what the president or his trained, pet Jesuits tell you — can differ here. And they do.

Some Catholics believe that it’s absolutely immoral to use a vaccine developed using tissue lines from murdered unborn children. They regard the research use of aborted babies’ tissue as morally equal to picking up the results from Nazi experiments in death camps. Virtually all scientists refuse to do that, even in the name of saving lives.

It’s not even clear that for most people — apart from those of advanced age or with serious underlying conditions  — the COVID virus represents a mortal threat. Nor do the vaccines fully prevent transmission of the virus. So for the healthy and young, shrugging at vaccines’ abortion links seems crass and amoral. Only those at real risk of COVID death, thanks to other medical conditions, could really plead “necessity.”

And if it’s the only way to avoid starving, the Church believes that actual cannibalism can be justified. But only if the person’s already dead (and wasn’t killed for food).

Cardinal Burke: It’s Abhorrent

Some of the most doctrinally solid Catholic bishops agree with that stance. As the excellent LifesiteNews reports:

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, has previously spoken out against vaccines using aborted babies: “It must be clear that it is never morally justified to develop a vaccine through the use of the cell lines of aborted fetuses. The thought of the introduction of such a vaccine into one’s body is rightly abhorrent.”

Catholic Neocons: It’s Morally Neutral

Other equally dogged Catholics disagree. Just today, the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) issued a statement by pro-life scholars. Its conclusions are clear:

While there is a technical causal linkage between each of the current vaccines and prior abortions of human persons, we are all agreed, that connection does not mean that vaccine use contributes to the evil of abortion or shows disrespect for the remains of unborn human beings. Accordingly, Catholics, and indeed, all persons of goodwill who embrace a culture of life for the whole human family, born and unborn, can use these vaccines without fear of moral culpability. [emphasis added]

[The vaccines] do not contain the remains of any human being and so its use does not show disrespect for human remains, any more than the contemporary use of products, such as roads or train lines that were constructed by unjustly enslaved human beings, or use of land unjustly taken, shows disrespect for those victims in the distant past.

The EPPC statement dismisses the bishops’ attempt to distinguish between which vaccines are more or less tainted by abortion links:

[W]e think it a mistake to say both that these vaccines are morally permissible to use and yet that some ought to be preferred to others. There appears to us to be no real distinction between the vaccines in terms of their connection to an abortion many decades ago, and thus the moral starting point is one of equivalence.

Let’s Split the Difference, OK?

Both Cdl. Burke’s position and that of the EPPC have one thing in common: They’re coherent and self-consistent. Each of the vaccines on the market have real abortion links, though Johnson & Johnson’s are the most blatant. Burke and his supporters think the abortion link is direct enough to make the vaccines immoral, akin to cannibalism. The EPPC considers the links so remote that they shouldn’t trouble pro-lifers considering the vaccine.Burke and his supporters think the abortion link is direct enough to make the vaccines immoral.GabTweet

But the U.S. bishops, in the spirit of “splitting the difference” and going along to get along, have managed to adopt a stance that really is as absurd as the “Li’l Snackers” stance I depicted above. Use of these vaccines is either a form of cannibalism or morally neutral. Suggesting that taking them is kinda sorta morally reprehensible, so we gently encourage Christians to avoid it … if it’s not too inconvenient?

That’s the kind of pastoral courage that gets you promoted to top leadership positions in the Catholic Church today.

Pennsylvania House Democrat Introduces Forced Sterilization – Three-Child Limit Legislation

Pennsylvania Democrat Christopher M. Rabb sent out a memorandum to all House members regarding his legislation that will enforce reproductive responsibility among men.  The bill will force men to undergo vasectomies within 6 weeks from having their third child or their 40th birthday, whichever comes first.

This legislation includes a $10,000 reward to whoever snitches to the proper authority on those who have failed to submit to forced sterilization within the allotted time.

This bill will also include legal actions for unwanted pregnancies against inseminators who wrongfully conceive a child with them.

“As long as state legislatures continue to restrict the reproductive rights of cis women, trans men, and non-binary people, there should be laws that address the responsibility of men who impregnate them. Thus, my bill will also codify “wrongful conception” to include when a person has demonstrated negligence toward preventing conception during intercourse,” Rabb stated in his memorandum.

PA State Rep. David Rowe posted on his Facebook account regarding this horrendous bill:If there was any doubt that today’s progressive left have utterly and completely disregarded your personal medical freedom, then let this be the nail in the coffin.

A legislator from Philadelphia has just introduced legislation that would limit how many children your family could have, dictate what age you could have a family, and would issue a TEN THOUSAND DOLLAR FINE for refusing to submit to forced sterilization after having three children. As a fourth-born child myself, I would have never existed under this law and neither would so many others.This bill will never see the light of day as long as Republicans control the House, but I wanted you all to be aware how quickly policies that belong in Communist China would become the norm here if Democrats seized total control of State Government.The left is pushing to make America a godless, communist country like their big boss China.  This is utterly sickening population control and they do this while illegal immigrants and refugees are flooding across the open borders.You can read the memorandum here: