Is it too early for an incredibly grim post? Of course not. A new study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences says that we basically don't know how people die when they are hanged. Why is this relevant? Because Washington has the only functioning gallows in the country.
This state isn't big on capital punishment. We're no Texas or Virginia; the most people we've ever executed in a year is five, in 1939. And most years that number is zero.
But death by hanging is still one of two options given to inmates on death row -- convicted triple-murderer Charles Campbell was the last to choose it in 1994 -- with lethal injection being the default. And death by hanging is a seriously mysterious kind of death.
So mysterious, in fact, that a lot of our ideas about how people die when hanged are based on writing that's nearly 200 years old. And in some cases on gruesome experiments done at the turn of the century, where animals like rabbits, mice, and dogs were hung in order to figure out what killed them.
For the record, there are three options: either you die by asphyxiation, by stopping blood to the brain, or by the heart stopping. (Cheery!) And you'll be happy horrified to know that right now, as you read this, there is a group of scientists out there trying to answer this question by (wait for it) watching videos of people hang themselves.
Recently, filmed hangings have been used as a powerful tool in understanding the pathophysiology of human asphyxia. The Working Group on Human Asphyxia (WGHA) was formed in 2006, and since its creation, 8 filmed hangings have been analyzed. Observing the videos reveals that loss of consciousness occurs quickly, followed by convulsions and a complex pattern of alternating phases of decerebrate and decorticate rigidity. The videos also demonstrate some auditory evidence of persistent air passage through the airways during the hanging process.
If you need me, I'll be spending the rest the rest of the morning involuntarily rubbing my neck and staring off into the distance for minutes at a time. Aren't you glad you stopped by Daily Weekly today?!