Studying a guillotined head, Mainz 1803

Studying a guillotined head, Mainz 1803

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Credit: SHEILA TERRY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Coloured engraving showing the examination of a guillotined head. In a novel Alexandre Dumas had claimed that a head still retained its senses two hours after decapitation, giving rise to a controversy as to whether or not death was instantaneous. If not the guillotine could be considered a cruel method of execution. The public execution of 20 brigands led by the notorious Schinderhannes, in 1803, gave the Medical Association of Mainz the opportunity to conduct a range of experiments on the executed bodies. Two doctors remained beneath the scaffold and examined the decapitated heads following execution. They obtained no response from the heads and demonstrated that life was extinct and death instantaneous. Therefore guillotining could be considered a humane method of execution.

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Keywords: 1803, alexandre dumas, bodies of criminals, decapitation, execution, extinction, guillotine, humane method of execution, instantaneous death, mainz, medical experiments, medical research, schinderhannes, severed head

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