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Why Not Necrophilia?

The Islamist bill to legalize necrophilia with one’s dead spouse story was probably a hoax, but it made one of my commenters in the item say something interesting:

If this weren’t tied to religion, I could imagine some liberals saying “Sex with a dead spouse? Who does it hurt?”

She got a “how dare you?!” reaction, but her remark is worth considering from a philosophical angle. If harm and the lack of consent are the only moral barriers against sexual activity, who’s to say that necrophilia should be illegal, or even wrong? Of course it’s viscerally distasteful to nearly everybody, but why exactly is it wrong, by the harm/consent standard which generally guides the progressive left’s thinking on sexual morality? Why should it be prohibited, or stigmatized? True, the dead person cannot consent, but then, he or she is not a person any longer. And how can he or she be harmed? You can’t get any worse off than dead. You might say that such a degraded act harms the living person who engages in it, but that is a value judgment. On what basis do you decide that this supposed harm is more important than that person’s sexual autonomy?

Let me be clear: I am decidedly not in favor of necrophilia. I could give you 15 different reasons, all of which require more than a harm/consent approach to sexual morality (but then again, I am a conservative Christian). I am not sure, though, on what basis a liberal society with the sexual ethics of our own draws the line against it — if, let me emphasize, harm and consent are the only two bedrock principles of our common sexual moral thinking.

I’m not saying that “liberals favor necrophilia,” so please don’t have a hissy fit. I’m sure 9,999 out of 10,000 liberals would find necrophilia as disgusting as I do. But we don’t build moral and legal systems on mere disgust, do we? So, what then?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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