The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 1889. DEATH BY ELECTRICITY.
It is possible that m time to come the taking of human life as the law's forfeit may give place to penal servitude or solitary confinement, but so far, until recently, the only country m which the humanitarian methods of punishment have superseded the lex talionis of " blood for blood " has been the Helvetian Republic. And there the experience has not been encouraging, for after the abolition of capital punishment the number of murders was found to increase, and the death penalty has been re-enacted with general approval. Italy has now resolved to try the experiment, and it remains to be seen whether the result will or will not be the same as m Switzerland. It is to be feared that it will and that, like Switzerland, Italy will soon have to return to tge enforcement of the supreme penalty. We hope that it may be otherwise, and if so other countries will be encouraged to dispense with a -punishment which can only be justified to the plea of its necessity. Even though that were the case it would probably be many years before executions for murder were entirely abolished, and meantime the next best thing is to secure that when life is taken at the bidding of the law the penalty shall be carried out as expeditiously and pain? lessly as possible. And of all the methods employed by civilised countries that m force m British communities, death by the rope, appears to be the farthest from fulfilling these conditions, the Bcenes on the scaffold being only too often shocking to the last degree. Even the guillotine has been known to fail of its sudden certainty, and the spectacle of decapitation is always revolting. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the question has been often asked " Why not employ electricity ?" Prima facie it would appear that death by electric shock would be unfailing m its certainty and unrivalled m its swiftness, and, therefore, its substitution for the rope ur the axe has long been earnestly advocated. And now it is to be tried, the United States having resolved upon the experiment, Congress having passed a law requiring the execution of capital sentences by electricity after Ist January of this year, and should the experiment prove satisfactory other countries may be expected to follow suit. But the matter does not seem to be quite so simple as was at one time thought to be the case, and as yet, although the law is now m operation, we have seen no record of any decision as to the exact manner m which the " harnessed lightning " is to be employed m the new role of public executioner. According to the New York correspondent of the " Electrician " no action had been taken by the State to that end up to October or November last, but' m the meantime the Medico-Legal Society, of which Mr Gerry, a member of the Capital Punishment Commission, is also a member, has had a committee at work investigating the subject, and that committee has now made it-3 report. Three methods of application of electricity were proposed. One was the passing of the current from wrist to wrist through the body ; another was the passage of the current from a metallic band fastened to the forehead through the body to one of the. wrists, and the third method proposed placing the criminal between a metallic cap at his head and a metal plate at his feet. The committee has rejected all these methods. It has made experiments on dogs, and reports m favor of passing the current from the top of the head to a point on the spine between the shoulders. The current will cut every point of vital energy m the brain and and the great nervepassages leading downward through the neck, and death, it is said, will be instantaneous.