Saturday, April 2, 2011
A fascinating historical tidbit
Something I read in an article today:
You may or may not know that a "Hangman's Fracture", referring to a bilateral pedicle fracture of the C2 vertebrae, is thusly named because it commonly resulted when prisoners were hanged.
Most people who were hanged didn't suffer much damage to their spinal cord, because the neural canal is quite wide at this level. Most of them choked to death. However, if a hanging was done properly, a so-called "good hanging", then the spinal cord was severed and this was the means of death rather than strangulation.
So how do you (the executioner) know if you've achieved a "good hanging"? If the spinal cord was severed, the sympathetic tracts going down to the lower body would be severed as well, leaving only the parasympathetic system. For those of you who don't remember the autonomic nervous system, sympathetic is "fight or flight" (dilates your eyes, makes your heart race) and parasympathetic is "rest and recuperation." One of the things that the parasympathetic system does is the male erection.
Therefore, if a male prisoner's spinal cord was severed, leaving only the parasympathetic in charge, he would develop an erection as he died. That's how you knew the man was "well hung".