What legal issue is at the core of the Speluncean Explorers case?

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L. Ron Fuller wrote The Case of the Speluncean Explorers. It was published in the Harvard Law Review in 1949. The case is about a group of 10 explorers who were trapped in a cave by a landslide.  Rescue efforts were underway to free the explorers. However, 10 members of the rescue team had already died.

The explorers were able to locate a two-way radio system and contact medical experts. The explorers asked the experts if they cannibalized a fellow explorer, if they would be able to survive ten more days. The medical experts reluctantly stated survival would then be possible. According to the case, it was Whetmore's idea. Whetmore also proposed casting lots and using a pair of dice to determine who would be cannibalized. At the last minute, Whetmore tried to withdraw. However, it was ultimately Whetmore who was cannibalized.

The legal crux of the case is whether or not the explorers committed murder in cannibalizing Whetmore. Initially, the explorers were found guilty of murder and were sentenced to be hanged. However, they brought a petition of error and asked for the case to be reviewed. Of five justices on the court, two upheld the conviction. One justice withdrew. Two of the justices asked that the conviction be set aside. 


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