How does death by hanging work? (2023)

How does death by hanging work? (1)

In the last days of 2006 the former ruler of Iraq Saddam Husseinwas hanged for the 1982 murdersof 148 people in Dujail, Iraq. While the death penalty is still on the books in many countries around the world, in many cases death by hanging has been replaced by more sterile methods of killing such as slaughterlethal injection, which some consider a more humane form of execution. Many people will be surprised to learn that hanging, when performed using modern techniques, can be one of the quickest and most painless types of execution.

The modern method of court hanging is referred to as dielong drop. This is the method Iraqi officials used to execute Saddam Hussein. In the long case those who plan the executionCalculate the fall distancerequired to break the subject's neck due to his weight, size and build. The less the person weighs, the longer the drop needs to be.


The goal of the long drop is to get the body moving fast enough after the trapdoor opens to create between 1,000 and 1,250 foot-pounds of torque on the neck when the sling twitches tight. This distance can range from 1.5 to 2.7 meters (5 to 9 feet). When the knot of the sling is placed on the left side of the subject's neck below the jaw, the tug to the neck is at the end of the dropenough to breakor dislocate a neck bonecalled axis, which in turn would sever the person's spinal cord. In some cases, just as the fall ends, the executioner will yank up on the rope to facilitate the break.

The idea of ​​a "humane hanging" was called by an Irish mathematician and doctorSamuel Haughton. He calculated how far the prisoner would have to fall and then be hauled up with a tug on the rope in order to be killed quickly and relatively painlessly. Haughton published his findings in 1866.

According to Amnesty International, 55 countries still had the death penalty in 2020. But the vast majority of executions took place in just five countries: China, Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Iran is a leader inhanging people, but people were also hanged in Bangladesh, Botswana, Egypt, India, Iraq, South Sudan and Syria in 2020. In addition, hanging is a form of execution in Afghanistan, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria, the Palestinian Authority and Sudan.

In the United States,Judicial hanging is legalin both Washington state and Delaware, and since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, three prisoners have been hanged.the last in 1996. We explain how an "ideal hang" or long drop works and what happens with a "short drop".



  1. How hanging kills the victim
  2. suicide by hanging

How hanging kills the victim

How does death by hanging work? (2)

During an "ideal long fall," the prisoner's neck snaps and the spine is severed,bloodPressure drops to zero in about a second, and the subjectloses consciousness.brain deadthen it takes a few minutes to occur, and complete death may take more than 15 or 20 minutes, but the person at the end of the rope most likely cannot feel or experience anything. In a less than ideal long drop if theDistance miscalculatedor some other factor misses the mark from which the subject will diedecapitation(if the drop is too long) or fromStrangulation(if theDrop is too shortor the sling knot is not in the correct position).

Strangling can last several minutes and is a far more excruciating experience. The carotid arteries that supplybloodto theBrain, become compressed, and the brain swells so much that it eventually obstructs the top of the spine;the vagus nerve is pinched, resulting in something calledVagaler Reflex, which stopsHerz; and the lack of oxygen comes to theLungeby compression of the trachea eventually leading to unconsciousness by asphyxiation. Death then follows the same pattern as with a broken neck, with the entire process ending between five and 20 minutes.


For the person being executed, the actual experience of hanging continues somewherea few seconds to a few minutes– or at least that is the general opinion of forensic scientists. However, in some countries where executions are carried out by hanging, other methods are used. During the brief drop, which may be a few centimeters to a few feet, the subject invariably dies from strangulation and/or compression of the carotid arteries. The same kind of death occurs insuspension hangs, in which the topic isthrown into the airinstead of being dropped. And with a standard drop rig, the subject falls about 5 feet (4.5 meters).

Depending on the subject's weight and build, this drop will either rupture the neck and spinal cord or cause death by strangulation, carotid artery compression, or vagal reflex. With these older methods, unconsciousness still usually occurs within a few seconds to a few minutes, but if it turns out to be only a few seconds, it's sheer luck (or bad luck, depending on how the country's legal system practices it). sees - when the purpose of hanging is severe punishment for the victim and deterrence of other would-be criminals, a "good hanging" can be the most gruesome experience possible).


suicide by hanging

suicide by hangingis bizarrely popular given the potential for excruciating pain. We've already discussed how long halyards are designed to minimize long-term suffering and potential complications. In comparison, short drop hangings (typically done in suicides)usually causethe much slower and much more painful death by strangulation instead of a quick fracture of the neck.

Suicide by hanging is commonly classified as "choking," but hanging accounts for the majority of these deaths. It is second only to suicide by gun (50 percent) in the US (28.3 percent).Resource Center for Suicide Prevention. Hanging is classified as a particularly deadly method of suicide as it ismore likely to actually lead to deaththan other methods. In contrast, drug intoxication is more common among "tempters" than among "completors."


According to a study from Korea, although drug intoxication was the most common type of suicide attempt, hanging was the "most successful" method, with 52.2 percent of enforcers using this method. Only 1 percent of graduates used drugs. This unfortunate success is probably the reason for thatincreased ratessuicide by hanging. In 2001, according to the Korean study, "only" 31.4 percent of suicides were committed by hanging, compared to 50.5 percent in 2012.

In the US, there was a 16 percent increase in suicides between 2000 and 2010, largely due to increases in hanging.According to a 2013 study. “Suicide by hanging/choking increased by 104% among 45-59 year olds and steadily increased in all age groups except those ≥ 70,” the study authors wrote. Death by hanging has also reached mainstream glorification thanks to thatDeath of beloved celebrity, like celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, actor/comedian Robin Williams, designer Kate Spade and fashion icon Alexander McQueen. But it remains a painful path.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


Originally published: January 4, 2007

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  • Amnesty International. "Death Sentencing and Executions 2020." (3 August 2021)
  • Childs, Dan. "Death by Hanging: What Saddam Faced." ABC news. December 29, 2006.
  • "The Trial of Judicial Hanging." Death Penalty UK (3 August 2021)
  • Lynch, Peter. "The Irishman who made the humane drop hang." The Irish Times (3 August 2021)
  • Stuttgart, Thomas. "Quick end is in the skill of the executioner." The time on the internet. 1 January 2007.,,3-2526006,00.html
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