By Serge Kreutz

In several essays throughout the past decade, I have emphasized the idea of a gentle death.

But I am having doubts now.

Not because I wouldn’t like what commonly is understood as a gentle death: peacefully dying in one’s bed, without any awareness of what is happening.

But I doubt that many bed deaths actually are of that nature, regardless of what obituaries may say.

What are unforeseen bed deaths: the majority are heart attacks and strokes.

Heart attacks are very painful, and one is unlikely to sleep through it if it happens in the night in one’s bed.

How quick is it? Even if no blood at all is supplied to the brain, for unconsciousness to occur, it’s going to take something like 2 minutes. But a heart attack will not usually shut all blood circulation, not even a deadly one. So, it’s still going to take some time.

And strokes? Hemorrhagic ones are probably more likely to cause unconsciousness than ischemic ones. [1] [2] But who knows.

Total unconsciousness would be good, but whether that privilege will be available?

Unless a stroke impairs the brainstem that controls vital functions like heartbeat and breathing reflexes, death is not a direct consequence of the stroke but a result of additional accidental impairment. And what would that impairment cause? Chocking and suffocating to death, like Stalin (see youtube here) had it. And this can happen consciously or unconsciously. All sensations of pain, panic, and discomfort are in the brain. [3] [4] [5] These sensations are not only in the parts of the brain that control vital functions, but may well be perceived in parts of thecortex that did not suffer any damage.

Witnesses to guillotine (see youtube here) death have reported that chopped up heads did not seem immediately dead. [6] [7] [8] Maybe such a head could even still say something. But chopped up heads probably have other concerns than give interviews to prepared microphones on how it feels, and whether it’s painful.

People who are hanged are immobile immediately because of damage to the cerebellum and brainstem. But whether they feel something or not, would be hard to answer.

I now believe that the surest way for a sudden death without any comfort would lie in blowing one’s whole head up in one go. A suicide belt around the neck would do a nice job. If there were a company selling such devices, I would buy one, just for me to set it off alone in a forest. They can happily print a label on it: Do not use in the vicinity of other people! Safe distance 200 meters.

Anyway, I am far from becoming a politically motivated suicide bomber (see youtube here). I’d be contented to be the only victim.

References:
1 Hemorrhagic Stroke In-Depth Report, The New York Times
2 David Alway, John Walden Cole, Stroke Essentials for Primary Care: A Practical Guide, Google Books
3 Sian A Thompson, John S Duncan, Shelagh J M Smith, Partial seizures presenting as panic attacks, BMJ. 2000 Oct 21; 321(7267): 1002–1003.
4 Anxiety disorders, University of Maryland Medical Center

5 Do You Suffer From Emotional Pain or Anxiety?, Psychology Today, April 22, 2013
6 NeilH, Bath, A man is beheaded “cleanly” – perhaps by guillotine. Is it possible that there follows a period of awareness, albeit of only a few nanoseconds?, The Guardian
7 Adam Lux, Posts filed under ‘Guillotine’, Executed Today
8 D. P. LYLE, MD Guillotine and Death: How Long Does It Take?, The Writer’s Forensics Blog