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A look at the various methods in which public executions are carried out

But it might not be quite as peaceful as it looks. The problem is, no one actually checked. There was no research or testing of any kind.

The people rethinking methods of execution

View image of Betty Lou Beets was convicted of killing her fifth husband in 1985 Credit: Getty Images Back in 2005, when more than a thousand deaths-by-injection had already taken place, a team of scientists decided to take a look.

Now an ongoing shortage of execution drugs has led some states to experiment with alternatives. As a result, several executions have been botched, including one in which the man reportedly took two hours and 640 gasps before he died. Is there a more humane option?

  1. This is generally 2,000 volts for 15 seconds for the first current to cause unconsciousness and to stop the heart. This is still the main method of execution in Communist China though the gunshot can be to either the neck or head.
  2. When prison makes things worse. Death is slow and painful.
  3. And Levy said inmates sometimes suffer broken bones when their muscles clench violently during the shock, but that did not happen with Holton. Then the world goes dark.

For thousands of years, execution was a spectacle to be relished by the public. From drowning people in sacks with animals, to pulling out their lungs through their backs, humankind seemed to have no shortage of imaginative ideas — and few moral qualms about enacting them.

View image of For thousands of years executions were a public spectacle Credit: Meanwhile one traveller visiting Delhi, India, in the 14th Century, reported that elephants had been trained to slice prisoners to pieces using blades attached to their tusks. The guillotine However, interest in more humane capital punishment is hundreds of years in the making.

Methods of Execution

The movement started in 1789, with the introduction of the guillotine. At the time, the French Revolution was just getting started and the heads of Parisian nobles were beginning to roll.

After a series of gory, drawn-out executions — sometimes several blows of the axe were necessary — it was clear the process was in need of some modernising.

He suggested using guillotines instead, boasting in a speech "Now, with my machine, I cut off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it. The guillotine involved a slanted knife, suspended over the victim by a wooden frame.

Some models also featured a collection basket for their head. It proved to be quicker and more reliable than beheading by hand, due to the weight of the blade. So how humane is it? Laboratory mice can provide some clues, because decapitation is a standard way of killing them for certain kinds of experimentsusing tiny guillotines. View image of The most widespread form of execution today is hanging Credit: Getty Images One study from 1975 reported that signs of conscious awareness persisted for between nine and 18 seconds after the animals were beheaded.

This timeframe has since been demonstrated in other animals too, so it could be a look at the various methods in which public executions are carried out reasonable proxy for humans. Hanging Beheading is still practiced to this day, particularly in Saudi Arabia where 146 people were executed by beheading in 2017. But by far the most widespread form of execution today is hanging. There are two ways this is done: As the names suggest, the former involves dropping the person from a lower height and leads to death by suffocation.

This is generally considered to be extremely painful. The victim usually loses consciousness immediately, though it may take up to 20 minutes for their heart to stop beating. View image of Death by firing squad has been in use for hundreds of years Credit: Getty Images The catch is that the method requires scrupulous calculation. No one has been hanged in the US since 1996.

Criminal Myths A special series about the factors that shape crime At a time when prison numbers are rising throughout the world, BBC Future is exploring several misconceptions about criminals and crime. If you are enjoying this story, take a look at the other pieces in our Criminal Myths series, including: Locked up and vulnerable: When prison makes things worse.

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In the typical set up, a criminal is strapped to a chair with a hood over their head. Then five anonymous marksmen fire shots at their chest.

Top 10 Modern Methods of Execution

One gun contains a blank. In 1938, the very same state used the method to execute a 40-year-old man, John Deering, who was convicted of murder. He took the unusual decision to have himself hooked up to an electrocardiogram while it happened, so we have an idea of how swiftly the method works. Then the world goes dark. Electric chair The electric chair was first invented as a more humane alternative to hanging.

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Like the guillotine and the lethal injection, it was seen as civilised and scientific. It all started with a chilling report commissioned by the State of New York in 1887, which evaluated 34 ways to kill a human.

View image of Electric chair detail Credit: Getty Images One of its authors, a dentist, recalled hearing about a drunken dock worker who had touched an electric generator some years before and died instantly.

  • The chamber is sealed and the executioner pours a quantity of concentrated sulfuric acid H2SO4 through a tube which leads to a holding compartment in the chair;
  • Since it is easier for a man to escape, this discrimination literally becomes a matter of life and death;
  • But is this just another mistake?
  • One gun contains a blank;
  • Assuming the shooters hit their target, the heart ruptures and the prisoner dies quickly from blood loss.

He came up with the idea for the electric chair, which was used to dispatch an axe murderer just three years later. Nine US States have retained the method as a back-up, though this is controversial. Nitrogen hypoxia Which brings us to the latest idea: The method is also a surprisingly quick demise. One study from the 1960s found that volunteers breathing pure nitrogen lost consciousness in around 17-20 seconds.

So what does it feel like?

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Then he did something risky: The idea was to get a sense of what hypoxia is like, so that he could recognise when it was happening in the future. Years later, while flying with his wife, he started to get the same weird feeling. He recognised it immediately and fixed a kink in his oxygen line before anyone got hurt. Three US States have now authorised the method as a back-up. But is this just another mistake?

And this brings us back to the issues facing the lethal injection: