Is hanging really painless?

November 23, 2005
Singapore Democrats

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To whom it may concern,

At the end of this letter are quotes that describe the potential complications during hanging. Although macabre, I do have a point to make; bear with me.

I believe it is insufficient to examine the body afterwards to determine if death was instantaneous. Modern medical technology must be used, during execution, to monitor the vital signs of prisoners sentenced to hang. Their pulse, breathing, and electrical impulse of both the spinal column and brain must be tracked.

This is possible using a wireless connection to transmit physiological data, or by threading wires up through the noose, back to a central computer station. Either way, it is technically possible to monitor the state of the body throughout execution. Furthermore, the results of the tracking must be made public and be interpreted by an independent third-party (associated with neither the government nor prison).

My point:

If any hanging does not result in instantaneous death, then all hanging shall be henceforth declared inhumane. Additionally, all countries that have hanging as a punishment must subsequently be asked to abolish it or be expelled from the United Nations (as per the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Part III, Article 7).

Lastly, countries that do not fully monitor all vital signs of prisoners during execution should also be expelled from the United Nations on the grounds that hanging has not been scientifically proved to cause instantaneous death in all cases (again, invoking Article 7 of the aforementioned Covenant).

BC, Canada

The consequences of hanging follow.

“However, according to Harold Hillman, a British physiologist who has studied executions, “the dangling person probably feels cervical pain, and suffers from an acute headache, as a result of the rope closing off the veins of the neck. It had been generally assumed that fracture-dislocation of the neck causes instantaneous loss of sensation. Sensory pathways from below the neck are ruptured, but the sensory signals from the skin above the noose and from the trigeminal nerve may continue to reach the brain until hypoxia blocks them.”

“In the opinion of Dr. Cornelius Rosse, the chairman of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Washington School of Medicine, the belief that fracture of the spinal cord causes instantaneous death is wrong in all but a small fraction of cases.”

“However, instantaneous death rarely occurs. If the inmate has strong neck muscles, is very light, if the ‘drop’ is too short, or the noose has been wrongly positioned, the fracture-dislocation is not rapid and death results from slow asphyxiation. If this occurs the face becomes engorged, the tongue protrudes, the eyes pop, the body defecates, and violent movements of the limbs occur.”

“There are mostly two problems with hanging: If the delinquent falls too fast, he would get decapitated. If he falls too slow he would die through suffocation and this is not a fast and painless death.

“By a proper height of fall these problems could be avoided. Therefore the kind of gallows was constructed that we know today. 13 steps leading to a platform with a trap opening to the below. The space below the platform is covered by a curtain to spare the witnesses from seeing the dead body. To avoid physical fight, the delinquent is tied on hands and feet. He gets a hood over his head, this is meant to lessen the noises a human being is doing when suffocated. And also through this the witnesses do not have to see the face expression in the moment of

the death.”

“A physical examination and measuring process is conducted to assure almost instant death and a minimum of bruising. If careful measuring and planning is not done, strangulation, obstructed blood flow, or beheading could result. At the appropriate time on execution day, the inmate, in restraints, is escorted to the gallows area and is placed standing over a hinged trap door from which the offender will be dropped. Following the offender’s last statement, a hood is placed over the offender’s head. Restraints are also applied. If the offender refuses to stand or cannot stand, he is placed on a collapse board. A determination of the proper amount of the drop of the condemned offender through the trap door is calculated using a standard military execution chart for hanging. The “drop” must be based on the prisoner’s weight, to deliver 1260 foot_pounds of force to the neck. The noose is then placed snugly around the convict’s neck, behind his or her left ear, which will cause the neck to snap. The trap door then opens, and the convict drops. If properly done, death is caused by dislocation of the third and fourth cervical vertebrae, or by asphyxiation.”

“Hanging often led to a slow and cruel death as the prisoner strangled on the rope and this led to invention of the electric chair in 1891 (which became the most widely used method in the 20th century, being inflicted, at its peak by 27 states, and from 1921 the gas chamber which was adopted in 11 states).”