Death by hanging

The Wikipedia page for hanging describes a couple of possible outcomes:

for suspension or short-drop (in which the neck isn’t broken), the ligature typically compresses the carotid arteries, causing unconsciousness in a few seconds, and eventual death by anoxia (due to inability to breathe through the compressed airway, and/or a total blockage of the carotid artery).

For standard- or long-drop, the victim’s neck is typically broken (severing the spinal cord). The claim is that this somehow results in a quicker/more merciful death than suspension.

My question: how could the above claim be true? For suspension, the victim is quickly unconscious, and constriction of the airway prevents breathing, ultimately causing death by asphyxiation and/or cerebral anoxia due to blockage of the carotid artery. For standard/long-drop, the same is also true, with the added detail that the neck is broken and the spinal cord is severed. Why is the severing of the spinal cord (in addition to the other details) helpful?

I recall reading descriptions that the slow hanging could take quite a few minutes, up to half an hour - the victim was thrashing like a fish out of water, slowly choking and suffocating for quite a while. I suspect the “passes out quickly” is not guaranteed.

(In Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle young Jack gets his entrepreneurial start by being paid as a young boy by condemned criminals - to run in and grab their feet, and haul down, so they die much faster with less suffering. )

Pierrepoint had a table to calculate the correct drop for a given weight. long enough to break the neck, but not so long as to rip the head right off - the Iraqis should have used it.

md2000, I’ll wager you’ve never seen the movie “Hang 'Em High”?

William Marwood is credited as the inventor of the Long Drop. Before then people were invariably strangled. James Billington took over from him as chief executioner, and along with his sons (three of them also executioners) developed it, and the Pierrepoints developed it further. In theory, the placing of the knot would twist the head around, breaking the neck and the carotoid artery causing near instantaneous death.

The Book Billington, Victorian Executioner by Alison Bruce covers some of this, but for the most part it’s a litany of the executions carried out.

The Pierrepoints also prided themselves on the speed of executions; from condemned cell (adjacent to the gallows), being strapped, hooded, noose applied and dropped in ten seconds.

Because if you sever the spinal cord, the subject loses consciousness instantly. And if you break the neck that high, you lose the ability to breathe. So you never wake up.

The difference between unconscious and never regains consciousness and instantaneous death is nil as far as the victim is concerned. So severing the spinal cord = instantaneous death. Much more pleasant than even a few seconds of choking to death.

But the idea that a short drop hanging results in unconsciousness in seconds isn’t borne out by the evidence. It can take 15 minutes or more. Nor nice at all.

i wonder why hanging is such a frequent means of suicide? i had a friend who tried it several times and failed before finally dying the third time. at least two attempts were made by a belt from the rafters in her garage (which is what finally did her in).

it just doesn’t sound as good as pills, gun, or asphyxiation from your car’s exhaust (which is as accessible as a garage, belt and rafters).

Don’t know what pills to take, can’t afford a car and certainly not a garage, and there are strict gun control laws where I live (if I was in the U.S., though, I’d probably go the gun route).

Hey, you asked.

Why does severing the spinal cord in the neck cause instant unconsciousness?

In simple terms, when you stretch a nerve, it fires. When you stretch all the nerves in the neck, then the brain receives a signal that every nerve in the body has fired. Simultaneously. And the body receives a message that the brain wants to send a signal to every part of the body. Simultaneously.

It’s like a lightning strike on a computer motherboard. Everything in the brain goes haywire as it tries to cope with the mass of incoming information, while every muscle in the body spasms. The brain and body both decide that the best way to deal with this is to reboot, and suggests you lie down while they do so. IOW you pass out.

Normally you wake up a few minutes later. When the nerves that let you breathe have been severed, a few minutes later your brain doesn’t have enough oxygen to wake up.

I won’t provide any links, but there are plenty of ‘gore’ internet sites that have footage of so-called ‘slow-drop’ strangulation hanging executions. This method is popular in the Middle East. Actually, they don’t even use a slow ‘drop’ at all, but usually a slow ‘raise’. IOW a crane is used to slowly lift the victim up off a platform by a noose. This is done to deliberately increase suffering, and it very clearly succeeds at this as the victim struggles violently for several minutes. A lifting crane is also employed as these hangings are public spectacles attended by throngs of cheering spectators, and lifting the victims up provides better viewing for the crowds.

Pretty unpleasant all-round…

Got a cite for this?

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

- Dorothy Parker.

At the end of “Dancer In The Dark,” Björk is about to take the drop. They have her tied to a (supposedly) heavy, litter-type device; I’m guessing she didn’t have enough weight to snap her neck on her own. I think the drop was roughly 10 feet.

That sounds grotesque and gruesome and horrible, even if it is quick.

As I recall from the film (although it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it):

They strap her to the board because she was causing trouble due to them not letting her wear her glasses. The board prevented her struggling and kept her in place.

I certainly would not argue that, because it makes much more sense (been a long time since I’ve seen it, too; we probably saw it on the same weekend TV broadcast :slight_smile: ). All I really remember was Joel Grey singing and 6’4" David Morse trying to get a 95 lb Icelandic girl to help him commit suicide. I think?

Well we are talking about execution. It’s always going to be gruesome and grotesque, almost by definition.

The best you can ever hope for is painless.

Here is more than what you want to know about how various types of hangings kill.

In it there is a link to picture of the aftermath of a Judicial Hanging (from Kuwait). So be advised.

No, I watched a videotape of it here in Bangkok.