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JAMA 100 Years Ago
September NaN, 1999


Author Affiliations

JenniferReiling, Editorial Assistant

JAMA. 1999;282(12):1112B. doi:10.1001/jama.282.12.1112

A new proposal has been offered to lessen the sufferings of the unfortunate murderer who has to undergo the pangs of capital punishment. Instead of hanging, which has already been held as barbarous and has been abolished in New York, or electrocution, which it is claimed is not the same in its action on all persons and therefore may even sometimes cause pain, it is now proposed, in a paper read before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to carry out capital punishment by poisoning with hydrocyanic acid and under conditions that will make it entirely painless and unexpected. The convicted criminal is to be taken to the death-chamber, which is to be connected by pipes with retorts generating the vapor, and some night when he is peaceably sleeping, it is to be suddenly turned on and he will peacefully pass out of this mortal existence. The date is not to be fixed, but is to be at the discretion of the authorities, within certain limits, covering several months, so that it is presumed he will be spared the mental agony of expectation to a large extent. The proposition might go still further and leave him in ignorance of his conviction, but that does not seem to have been suggested. After all, it may be considered questionable whether any of the plans offered has any great advantage. Sudden death of any kind is likely to be comparatively painless, and the elimination of the element of expectancy is a rather dubious advantage. If capital punishment is deemed necessary, it is to some extent as an example and deterrent, as well as to eliminate harmful individuals, and it is doubtful whether it should be made attractive. The old public executions made popular heroes, the newer suprahumane methods may err also in another way.

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