Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports that anti-incest laws in Germany could be struck down on the grounds that they constitute an unacceptable intrusion into the right to sexual self-determination. The narrow context is the case of a brother and sister who have lived together for years and have four children. The wider context is the very meager basis upon which laws relating to sexual ethics are now built.
In a world where consent provides the only de facto limit to acceptable sexual ethics, this legal move has a certain obvious legal and cultural logic. If the brother and sister are in love, why should they not live together in a sexual partnership? Even the pragmatic argument from the risk of congenital defects in children is irrelevant: birth control and abortion are the obvious answers which this present age would give.
In fact, it is not so much the legitimation of incest in itself as it is the collapse of the boundaries of sexual taboos given our current ethical logic which makes the case significant. The question of consent is itself surely a complex one when it comes to sexual morality and even this might soon be faced with a serious challenge. Take, for example, bestiality (or, to use the more anodyne modern term, zoophilia). I regularly eat cows, pigs, sheep and chickens whose consent to be part of my diet is (I assume) rarely if ever sought before they arrive on my dinner plate. The law as it stands clearly does not recognize the need for a cow to give permission before it is slaughtered and turned into a hamburger. One assumes that it would not require its consent for a less drastic fate.
A thought thus comes to mind if any notion of sexual ethics is not to vanish in its entirety: Either consent is not a sufficient basis for a sexual ethic, or eating meat needs to be outlawed as soon as possible.