Saturday, May 3, 2014

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin
  Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was born in France on May 28, 1738 and died March 26, 1814. He was opposed to the death penalty and belonged to a group that was trying to abolish it. However the thing that bothered him the most was the manner in which people were executed. The method of execution was based upon class. Common people were hung for the most part and occasionally people were quartered. Prisoners limbs were tied to oxen and then driven in four different directions. Executions were public spectacles. The aristocracy could pay for a quick and painless death by being beheaded with a sword or an ax. However even these could be messy occasionally if the executioner missed his mark. Guilotin wanted a uniform method of execution for all classes and he wanted them done in private so as to bring more dignity to the process. On October 10, 1789 he proposed to the French legislature that the "criminal shall be decapitated; this will be done solely by the means of a simple mechanism". This was defined as a "machine that beheads painlessly". Actually he thought this machine would be a step toward abolishing capital punishment altogether. The law was passed in 1791 and the experts busily set about designing this machine. 

  Guillotin was not the inventor of the Guillotine but the machine was named after him. It was actually designed and built by several men. A surgeon named Antoine Lewis. A German harpsichord maker named Tobias Schmidt and France's main executioner named Charles Henri Sanson. The guillotine got a work-out during the French Revolution and the reign of terror. King Louis the XVI, Marie Antoinette, many nobles, and finally the leader of the reign of terror, Robespierre himself. The guillotine was even used by the Nazi's during World War II. It was discovered by scientists that a person who loses their head quickly by decapitation remains conscious long enough to know that the head is no longer attached to the body. This has been confirmed by modern neuro- physiology. France abolished capital punishment in 1981. The irony of it all was that one of the most efficient killing machines ever invented was named after Joseph Guillotin who wanted to abolish the death penalty. A story developed that he was executed by the guillotine but he actually died of an infected carbuncle at the age of 76. His children petitioned the French government to change the name of the guillotine but the government refused. The family changed their own name instead.

Public Hanging
The Guillotine

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