Laws banning incest between brothers and sisters in Germany could be scraped after a government ethics committee said the they were an unacceptable intrusion into the right to sexual self-determination.
“Criminal law is not the appropriate means to preserve a social taboo,” the German Ethics Council said in a statement. “The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family.”
Their intervention follows a notorious case in which a brother and sister living as partners in Saxony had four children together. The couple had been raised separately and only met when the brother, identified only as Patrick S, was an adult, and his sister Susan K was 16.
Patrick S was sentenced to more than three years in prison for incest and the couple have since failed in their bid to have the guilty verdict overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.
Chancellor Merkel has said the government is not going to follow the council’s recommendation, even though the purpose of the council is to advise the government on legislation. Nevertheless, it is interesting to observe the reasoning they used here. Though two of the four children born from this consensual adult incestuous pairing are disabled (children born of incest are more likely to suffer genetic defects), the ethics committee said that no laws prevent disabled people from reproducing with each other, even if they are more likely to have offspring who are themselves disabled.
Sexual autonomy is the prime directive. From the German Ethics Panel’s ruling:
These references show an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex … These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to [liberty]. … At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State. … [T]he fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice.
Did I say that that came from the German Ethics Council? It does, if by “German Ethics Council” you mean “the US Supreme Court, in its 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling.” Furthermore, the logic used by the German panel — that Germany’s permitting disabled people who have a good chance of passing genetic deformities to their children means there is no rational ground for prohibiting incestuous childbearing — is awfully close to the logic used successfully in court by same-sex marriage proponents: that because heterosexual couples who cannot produce children by natural means are permitted to marry, there is no justifiable biological reason to forbid same-sex marriage.
For you sexual autonomists in the room, why is the German Ethics Council wrong? And, given these precedents, on which legal and philosophical principles should the US Supreme Court deny the right of brothers and sisters to have sex? “Because it’s yucky” is neither a legal nor a philosophical precedent.
By the way, who sits on the German Ethics Council? Pornographers and dirty old men? Hardly. From its website:
The German Ethics Council shall be composed of twenty-six members specialising in scientific, medical, theological, ethical, social, economic and legal concerns. Its members shall include academics from the above disciplines, and in addition it shall include persons of repute who are particularly familiar with ethical questions of the life sciences.
The German Ethics council shall contain representatives of a variety of ethical approaches and a pluralist spectrum of opinion.
Who could have imagined that one day, the most sophisticated academic minds in one of the most advanced civilizations that ever existed would justify the kind of behavior associated with hillbilly degenerates?