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.”

Global Abortions Surpass 1.1 Million in First Ten Days of New Year

More than 1.1 million abortions have already taken place worldwide in the first ten days of 2021, according to statistics provided by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.).

Using W.H.O. data, a website called Worldometer keeps a running tally of data related to everything from demographics to economics, and also provides a continuously updated total for abortions performed in the calendar year. As of this writing, the number of abortions for 2021 stood at 1,113,770.

According to W.H.O., there are an estimated annual 40-50 million abortions in the world, which corresponds to approximately 125,000 abortions performed each day.

Currently, abortion is the leading cause of death in the world, with some 42.7 million abortions performed in 2020, followed by heart disease, cancer, and lower respiratory disease.

Abortions in the United States disproportionately target the black population, with black children aborted at more than 3 times the rate of white children. This means that by functional standards, abortion is a deeply racist institution, regardless of the intent of the abortion industry.

According to the most recent abortion data (2018) provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), black women have the highest abortion rate in the United States and white women have the lowest.

Among white women in the U.S., there are 110 abortions for every 1000 live births, whereas among blacks, there are 335 abortions for every 1000 births. Blacks are therefore aborted at over 3 times the rate of whites and more than half of all black deaths in the U.S. are the result of abortion.

More than a third (33.6 percent) of all deaths by abortion in the United States in 2018 happened to black babies, despite the fact that blacks represent just 12.3 percent of the population.

Conversely, non-Hispanic whites, who make up 60.6 percent of America’s population, account for only 38.7 percent of all U.S. abortions.

Even in its origins, the abortion movement, spearheaded by the Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International, and EngenderHealth has been no friend to blacks, despite their official propaganda to the contrary.

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., was a notorious racist and eugenicist, and worked tirelessly to reduce the black population. As part of the eugenics movement in the 1930s, Sanger thought that abortion could effectively cull “inferior races” from the human gene pool.

Sanger selected inner cities with a high concentration of minorities as the sites for her first abortion clinics, and still today, 79 percent of Planned Parenthood’s abortion facilities are located in black or minority neighborhoods.

Planned Parenthood’s research and propaganda arm, the Guttmacher Institute, was named after former Planned Parenthood president Alan Guttmacher, who was also Vice-President of the American Eugenics Society.

Guttmacher was an advocate of coercive population control, and believed that to achieve a significant reduction of the black population while avoiding accusations of racism, the involvement of the United Nations was indispensable. “My own feeling,” he said in an interview in 1970, “is that we’ve got to pull out all the stops and involve the United Nations.

“If you’re going to curb population, it’s extremely important not to have it done by the damned Yankees, but by the UN. Because the thing is, then it’s not considered genocide. If the United States goes to the black man or the yellow man and says slow down your reproduction rate, we’re immediately suspected of having ulterior motives to keep the white man dominant in the world. If you can send in a colorful UN force, you’ve got much better leverage,” Guttmacher said.

Planned Parenthood has continued to employ Guttmacher’s strategy, using the United Nations to pressure nations to legalize abortion and selecting black women as its spokespersons to conceal its latent racism.

As a 2015 Wall Street Journal article concluded: “[I]f liberal activists and their media allies are going to lecture America about the value of black lives, the staggering disparity in abortion rates ought to be part of the discussion.”