A memoir has recently been presented to the Academy of Sciences, on the subject of death by decollation, which will cause an investigation to take place, under the authority of Messrs Magendie and Flourens. Guillotin, the inventor of the guillotine, as well as several other distinguished physiologists, was of opinion that no physical sufferings attended the act of decapitation.
Sue, Sommering and Castel entertain different views. Experiments have been made by Sue on turkeys, sleep and calves, which, when the head and body have been severed by a sharp instrument, gave evidence of suffering. The body of a turkey thus decapitated, after remaining motionless for a whole minute, rose on its legs and remained in that position a minute and a half, flapping its wings and raising the claw towards its throat. The body of a decapitated sheep convulsed with so much violence, that three men were obliged to hold it. The head of a calf after decollation opened its eyes and moved its mouth and nostrils for six minutes.
Aldini, who tried his galvanic experiments in 1803, in Italy, on a guillotined person, and in London on a body executed by hanging, states that muscular contractions took place during two hours after death in the hanged, and three quarters of an hour in the decapitated man.
Mojon, professor of physiology at Genoa, having produced at Paris a system of investigation into the results of the guillotine, states that having exposed two heads a quarter of an hour after decollation, to a strong light, the eyelids closed suddenly; the tongue, which protruded from the lips, being pricked with a needle, was drawn back into the mouth, and the countenance expressed sudden pain.
The head of a criminal named Tiller, being submitted to examination after the guillotine, turned in every direction from whence he was called on by name. A report hitherto treated as fabulous, may therefore be believed, that when the executioner gave a blow on the face to Charlotte Corday’s head, the countenance expressed violent indignation. Fontenelle asserts that he has frequently seen the heads of guillotined persons move their lips. Sivelling declares that by touching the spinal marrow the most horrible demonstrations of agony succeed.
Many animals retain the power of locomotion after decapitation. A tortoise will live for six months, executing its ordinary functions, after the extraction of the brain; and 12 days after the head has been completely cut off. Charras, an operator at the Jardin des Plantes, having cut off the head of a viper, found that two of his pupils were dangerously stung by it, 60 hours afterwards. Boerhave cut off the head of a cock, which was running towards a trough, at the distance of 20 feet and the body fulfilled its intention.