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Autoerotic Nonlethal Filmed Hangings: A Case Series and Comments on the Estimation of the Time to Irreversibility in Hanging

Sauvageau, Anny MD, MSc; Ambrosi, Corinne MD; Kelly, Sean MD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: June 2012 - Volume 33 - Issue 2 - p 159–162
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181ea1aa6
Case Reports
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Recent studies of filmed hangings have documented the agonic sequences in these deaths. Considering this agonic sequence, one question comes to mind: which of these responses is an indicator of irreversible damage? Since decerebrate rigidity points toward lesions of the midbrain, it was initially thought that this posture could be an indicator of severe potentially irreversible damage. However, we here present a series of nonlethal filmed hangings by a 35-year-old male autoerotic practitioner, which will prove otherwise: in a film of an interrupted hanging, a decerebrate pattern of rigidity was observed at 20 seconds. However, the man later regained consciousness and seemed to present a full recovery without any noticeable symptoms. The scientific basis for the generalized assumption that death by hanging occur in 3 to 5 minutes will be reviewed. Though this estimation of the time is certainly precise and accurate enough for the needs of clinicians, it will be demonstrated that scientific evidence are not strong enough to be used in court. So how long does it take to suffer irreversible damage by hanging or by strangulation? The only honest and scientifically valid answer seems to be that we do not know.

From the *Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; and †Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Jamaica, New York, NY.

Manuscript received April 9, 2010; Accepted April 19, 2010.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence: Anny Sauvageau, MD, MSc, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, 7007 116 St, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6H 5R8. E-mail: anny.sauvageau@gmail.com.

© 2012 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.