Death is unavoidably messy

Tokyo

The Oct. 10 front-page story “Death by hanging not quick: data show” pursues an entirely different direction than the theme of speed of death by hanging that the headline implies.

Instead of reporting the actual time it takes to die by hanging, the story instead appears to describe the average 14 minutes it takes to march the condemned into the death chamber, pinion them and drop them. The thing that people don’t want to hear about is that breaking the neck by hanging does not, by itself, kill a person. Death comes by strangulation at the end of the rope. When pronouncing death sentences judges tell the convicted that they will be taken to such-and-such a place where they will be “hanged by the neck until dead” precisely because the hanging itself does not kill them. The broken neck certainly rushes it along, but death itself can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. Breaking the neck paralyzes the victim making it impossible for them to struggle and therefore easier for witnesses to watch. After all, who wants to watch the condemned wriggle, wet themselves and slowly strangle to death over many tens of minutes?

In addition, the broken neck and paralysis imposes a stillness in the body that misleads people into thinking that the condemned are instantaneously killed, when in fact they are not.

Opinion polls report that the majority of the Japanese public wants the death penalty. But no one wants to know the nitty-gritty, so we invent fantasies and twist language to fit the fantasies. We want death to be clinical, but I think the reality is that it is always unavoidably messy. Everything we think we know about judicial execution by the state is probably a lie.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

grant piper