This month my blog is dedicated to Doctors & Scientists Who Self-Experimented. So far, we’ve come across a number of individuals who pushed the boundaries of human endurance for the sake of science. While most of them are indeed commendable, there are those who come across as bizarre. Today we read about one such individual who will in the end make you ask- “Are you serious?”
Nicolae Minoviciwas born in Sarat, Romania on 23rd October 1868. He was a forensic scientist and a criminologist. He spent all his life helping the poor in his hometown. He provided the first ambulance and emergency service in his area. He is believed to have issued medical aid for more than 10,000 homeless people. He allocated shelter for single mothers where they could get comfort both before and after delivery. He was even appointed the mayor of Baneasa district, where he modernized the sewage system.
But his name is etched in the history books for a study which very few people would even think of attempting. While he was a professor of forensic science in Bucharest, Minovici one day decided “why don’t I study the effects of hanging on humans.” Now one would assume this meant a postmortem study of all the victims of death by hanging. But no, Minovici, wanted to study the effects of hanging in the living.
Obviously, there weren’t too many volunteers who would come forward to participate in such monstrosity. Not that Minovici was looking for any, because he had decided that he had the best subject to test upon- Himself!
So, the first of a series of experiments began in 1904. He devised a number of asphyxiation devices. The one above is one of the first ones. He obviously didn’t want to get killed the very first time he attempted this study. The purpose of this device was that he could adjust the intensity of asphyxiation himself. The rope passed through a pulley on the ceiling and attached a dynamometer to the noose. He didn’t use the Hangman’s knot for his first attempt. He decided to partially hang himself in various positions lying down. He found that the could only hang for 5 seconds because within that time, his face changed color, his vision blurred, and he heard a ringing sound in his ears. Since he himself was controlling the device, he could stop anytime. He experimented with this device in a number of positions. Slowly with experience he managed to hang for around 25 seconds.
Understandably, he wasn’t very happy with this. He would’ve been a laughing stock if he stopped at this stage. Therefore, he decided to up the ante. He used a rope with an actual hangman’s knot. This time he wanted to be suspended off the ground. He put his head into the loop and asked his assistants to pull the other end. One of the assistants counted the seconds loudly so that Minovici could hear him. He managed to endure the pain for only 4 seconds. He immediately signaled his assistants to let go of the rope.
He wasn’t discouraged though. He knew that he needed more practice. “I let myself hang six to seven times for 4 to 5 seconds to get used to it”. After this he managed to hang for about 25 seconds a couple of meters above the ground.
For the final phase of experimentation, Minovici decided to use the slip knot. This was extremely dangerous. Once he put his head through the loop, his assistants again began to pull the rope, but the noose tightened around his neck in a split second and strangled his neck. He suffered intense pain which he could not bear. His legs had not even lifted off the ground. Minovici immediately signaled his assistants to let go off the rope. Though he managed to survive, the pain around his throat was so severe that he could not swallow for more than a month.
That was the last time Minovici tried to hang himself. He later found some volunteers who agreed to be his guinea pigs. Minovici choked them by applying pressure on their carotids and jugular. Their faces turned purple. They had visual disturbances and feeling of numbness in their extremities.
Minovici made a detailed note of all his findings. His essay, in fact, was not limited to these singular hanging experiments, but related clinical records, statistics, information on the knots most frequently used by suicide victims, anatomy notes and so on. His research on hanging was published in a 200-page work titled Study on hanging, in two language editions. The Romanian edition was published in 1904 while the French language one was published in 1905.
Minovici died in 1941 from an illness affecting his vocal cords He died a bachelor leaving all his worldly belongings including his house, his estate and a collection of Romanian folk art to his country. His home is now a ethnological museum
This post is a part of the #AToZChallenge- 2018