The AFU and Urban Legend Archive
Medical
decapitated head blinking more




From: cg7495@u.cc.utah.edu (christine gazak)
Newsgroups: alt.folklore.urban
Subject: Re: The blinking guillotine
Date: 5 Nov 1997 17:50:32 GMT

: In article <63fh00$77p@panix.com>, iayork@panix.com (Ian A. York) writes:
: >[snip]
: >I'm profoundly skeptical. I think it's a case of over-focusing; ignoring
: >the multiple other factors and asking what would happen, hypothetically,
: >if asphyxiation was the only thing to worry about.
: >
: >Ian "may I have some volunteers from the audience?" York

I found one!
Ok, damnit, where is it? Here: found while researching the pros and cons of endoscopic sphinterotomy for the removal of small bile stones if anyone's remotely interested. I'm retyping it in its entirety because I find its musings on the necessity of capital punishment and its retort to those whose "sentiments" oppose it, quite a different tack from the current pro and con debates surrounding death and physicians.

From the British Medical Journal, Vol 294:February, 1987 page 474

100 Years Ago (quoted without permission, but I suspect strongly that the original researchers are dead by now. Original punctuation retained)

The _Proges Medical_ of July 9th (likely:1886) publishes a paper by Drs. Regnard and Loye on the examination of the head and body of a convict immediately after his decapitation by the guillotine. The prisoner was calm to the last, and not pale, even when his neck was fixed ready to receive the fatal knife. Two seconds after decapitation the cheeks were still rosy, the eyes wide open, with moderately dialated pupils, the mouth firmly closed. No fibrillary contractions could be observed. When the finger was placed close to one eye, no change of expression took place; but on touching an eye or the tips of the lashes, during the first five seconds, the lids closed just as in life. This reflex action could not be elicited from the sixth second after decapitation. The jaws were tightly clenched, and could not be opened by manual force; no similar muscular contraction could be detected in the trunk or extremities.

One minute after death the face began to turn pale, the trunk remained flaccid, the carotids countinuing to throw out blood remaining in the circulatory area. At the end of four minutes the face was quite pale, the upper lids were half closed, the jaws less firmly clenched than before.

Irritation of the cut surfaces of the spinal cord failed to produce reflex movements either in the trunk or on the face. For twenty minutes there was no change; then the necropsy was begun. There were signs of old pleurisy and alcoholism. The heart beat actively. On opening the pericardium, the ventricles and aurcles continued to pulsate for twenty-five minutes; the former then ceased to beat, but the auricles went on for forty minutes longer. Thus the heart beat for an hour after decapitation. Then its chambers were laid open; the left ventricle was firmly contracted, the right relaxed. There was emphysema at the edges of the left lung, as is nearly always observed after death by the guillotine. There were bubbles of air in the vessels of the pia mater, and much air in the subarachnoid space. The knife had passed through the lower part of the fourth cervical vertebra.

These researches show that not a trace of consciousness remains two seconds after beheading; that reflex movements of the cornea can be excited for a few seconds; that the heart may beat for an hour, the auricles continuing to pulsate alone for half that period; and that, putting aside the reflex movements of the eyelid, the contraction of the jaws and the jets of blood from the carotids, it seemed in this case as though a corpse had been decapitated, so inert were the remains of the convict. The entry of air into the inextensible and incompressible cranial cavity, after the escape of blood from its vessels, was only to be expected.

Drs. Regnard and Loye note how calm and free even from physiological death-struggle symptoms is death by the guillotine. There is not even asphyxia; death is rather due to inhibition similar to that described by M. Brown-Sequard in animals who succumb to certain irriations of the nervous system. In this country we take on ourselves the responsibility of destroying ife judicially. That so grave a task should be done as mercifully as possible is self-evident. Hanging is a very different matter from decapitation. Anglo-Saxon sentiment is against the headsman, but surely a contrivance for a "mort calme et sans angonie" might be devised to replace the ill-favored gallows. (BMJ 1887, ii:195)

Christine "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" Gazak


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