Law Experts Divided Over Aliens’ Status

North American
Newspaper Alliance

The Edmonton Journal
Tuesday, December 27, 1966

NEW YORK — What if a flying saucer landed in your backyard and a little green spaceman climbed out and you took a gun and shot him dead?

Would it be murder?

A variety of attorneys, law professors, and authorities on outer space and international law were asked this question. The consensus of views was: “Don’t bother me with stupid questions.”

But New York University law professor, Dr. Graham Hughes who teaches legal philosophy and criminal law, was willing to discuss the question, although he could offer no definitive answer.


In cases of murder or homicide, Dr. Hughes noted, traditional law says the victim must have been a human being. In England, the term used is “reasonable creature,” which is synonymous with human being.

And even human beings haven’t always been considered as such, law authorities note.

Until the turn of this century, for example, certain tribes of Africa were considered varmints under the law and it was permissible to shoot them as such.

Similar laws existed affecting the aborigines of Australia, and the American Indian could be shot legally while the West was being won.

“As things stand now,” observed Dr. Hughes, “an alien person (from outer space) would not have protection from the law.”

“If it is not human, it must be an animal, and the only legal aspects would be those governing cruelty toward animals,” he said.

Wouldn’t a creature that could develop a spacecraft to bring it to earth be considered reasonable, and hence human?

Dr. Graham doesn’t think so. A reasonable creature is just a synonym for human being. It is a technical legal term and has nothing to do with reason he said.

If the creatures were equal, he feels the whole history of international relations and international law would apply.


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