5 Laws Covering Things That Are Currently Impossible
A system of law is, for anyone outside of the most radical college freshmen, considered pretty necessary for functional civilization. Humans are a messy little species that have proven time and again that we’re capable of some truly horrific things without oversight or responsibility. Whether we’re talking about the days of yore where your god of preference was handing out rules on stone tablets, or modern legislative bodies, we need at least some written reminder that bashing each other’s skulls in with rocks is not cool.
A lot of laws are made reactively, after seeing something occur that we quickly realize should probably never happen again — like using mustard gas on the battlefield. Sometimes, though, it’s better to make laws proactively, when what they address is suitably stomach-turning enough that we’re better off not dabbling in it at all. After all, we don’t want to end up with a mini-purge while lawmakers desperately try to revise some sort of amendment to ban a hot new crime.
Along those lines, here are five situations that are covered under the law, despite being impossible in the present…
Human Cloning Bans
In 2006, when Dolly the sheep became the first successfully cloned mammal (that wasn’t a heaving, Cronenbergian mistake), it was national news. Immediately, the idea of cloning a human went from sci-fi foolery to sci-fi foolery that was worthy of eliciting much more nervous laughter. Since then, though, it seems like cloning, and plans around it, have fallen out of public interest. Not that no advancements have been made: In 2018, a monkey was successfully cloned, and the adorable ethical quandary that is cloning a dead pet is quietly very popular among those flush with money and grief.
But human cloning, for most of us, is still a bridge too far ethically to even seriously consider. It’s a genuine scientific possibility with the ethical oomph of the trolley problem, enough that thinking about it too hard can make your spine squeeze a bit shorter. Some places have already made their decision on it, banning human cloning entirely, just in case somebody happens to figure it out. In fact, there are currently a couple of U.S. states and a fair amount of countries worldwide that have banned human cloning for any purpose.
Planets Are Not Up for Grabs
The Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was fierce, but was mostly for bragging rights, and not actual control of the moon. For that, we have the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (cutting it pretty close there, fellas) to thank. Realizing the deep human need, when discovering a new frontier, to call “Dibs!”, the U.N. passed a treaty preventing countries from claiming ownership of not only the moon, but any other planet or celestial body, labeling them the “province of all mankind.”
More specifically, here are the relevant guidelines keeping Mars from someday becoming America Two:
- The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.
- Outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States.
- Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.
You Can’t Weaponize Celestial Bodies
The same Outer Space Treaty wisely decided to cover humans’ second favorite thing to do after colonization: blowing up other humans they disagree with. So, bad news for anyone hoping for a supervillain-style future where a country has the ability to activate their moon laser to vaporize their enemies, because the U.N. was way ahead of you. Immediately after laying out the guidelines saying that no one is allowed to claim ownership of celestial bodies, they also lay out what I kind of wish they’d called the “Death Star Provision,” which reads: “States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner.”
And then probably immediately thinking better of the specific wording here and a government’s deep capacity for shrugging their way through loopholes, added the much wider statement: “The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
Which would also, in theory, make a plan to use some sort of tractor beam to smash the moon into earth and destroy all human life as we know it expressly frowned upon by the U.N.
Laser Weapons Are Acceptable in War
While we’re talking space combat, let’s talk about another sci-fi fave: laser weapons. If you ever wondered what the United States’ official stance on future pew-pews is, you should know it’s something they’ve also taken into account in maybe the only cool legal memorandum ever published. Thinking ahead to a world where the U.S. military was slicing enemy combatants into minced tango meat with lasers a la the human quilt from Resident Evil, former Deputy Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army Hugh Overholt has made a statement on the matter.
In a memorandum titled “The Use of Lasers as Anti-Personnel Weapons,” Overholt concludes that the use of lasers as anti-personnel weapons are lawful. The document itself, just like any good legal writing, is torturous to read, but there are some fun details that needed to be included, like addressing the fact that laser weapons would result in incendiary burns and whether that is acceptable. Basically, it’s a whole lot of writing to say, “I mean, getting shot or cut with a laser isn’t any worse than getting a mortar shell to the face, so you can’t really argue it’s a war crime.”
You heard it here: Darth Mauling someone officially gets a thumbs up from the U.S. Army.
Aliens Would Have to Pay Sales Tax
This one is more of a byproduct of some other laws than something someone specifically decided, but it’s too fun not to cover. As Listverse lays out, there’s a particular bit of U.S. tax code that covers business done by the U.S. in outer space to be considered to be effectively executed inside the country. Specifically, Tax Code 35 U.S. Code § 105 says: “Any invention made, used or sold in outer space on a space object or component thereof under the jurisdiction or control of the United States shall be considered to be made, used or sold within the United States for the purposes of this title, except with respect to any space object or component thereof that is specifically identified and otherwise provided for by an international agreement to which the United States is a party, or with respect to any space object or component thereof that is carried on the registry of a foreign state in accordance with the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.”
So, if we do meet up, and initiate trade and gift-giving, aliens are going to learn just how long the arm of the IRS is.