Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/543

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527
EXTREME RARITY OF PREMATURE BURIALS.

satisfactory conclusion upon the signs of death, has led the writer to brief in what follows the opinion of the medical jurists of the present day upon this subject. That the trance state has been mistaken for death, and that premature burials have taken place, seem to be fully recognized in the system of morgues or dead-houses in various parts of Europe where bodies are so placed that the slightest movements will be brought to the notice of attendants; and in the laws which in most countries require the lapse of twenty-four hours and longer periods between death and burial. Yet competent authorities tell us that such institutions (morgues) are superfluous when ordinary care is taken by the relatives of a deceased person; and Taylor says that he has never met with any instance in which a body laid out in them was resuscitated after there had been a proper verification of death.[1]

In discussing this subject, how far are we justified in taking the statements of the earlier writers? The credulity of the public in similar matters is sufficiently shown in such works as Carpenter on "Mesmerism, Spiritualism," etc., and Hammond on "Fasting Girls," to induce us to view general statements with much suspicion. M. Fontenelle has published forty-six cases of premature burial from the time of Plutarch downward. Taylor, from whose work on medical jurisprudence this article draws freely, after a careful examination of all these cases, rejects the greater number of them simply because they are drawn from such sources as to render them perfectly inadmissible as evidence. M. Carré, in 1845, published the assertion that forty-six cases had occurred since 1833. Taylor examines his cases, and finds that no particulars by which their accuracy can be tested have been given. The whole subject, as taken from the tone of the article now commented upon, and from public opinion in general, resolves itself into two statements, viz.: that it is quite possible, and has been proved, that a state of trance, prolonged and of a nature to simulate death, may exist and deceive even those whose daily avocations make them familiar with death itself; and that many cases are on record where changes in the position of the body, and even where the birth of children, have taken place after interment.

For the existence of a trance state sufficient to simulate death, all appreciable movements of respiration and circulation must be suspended for a considerable length of time, and there is but one properly authenticated case on record as accepted by physiologists; even this case will not bear too close discussion at the present day. We are told in works on physiology that a Colonel Townshend was able at will to suspend animation to the extent of obliterating any perception of the heart-or pulse-beat, and of any respiratory movement, as a mirror held over the mouth and nose showed no dimness of its surface; and further,

  1. Forty-six thousand bodies were deposited in the mortuary institutions of Germany during a space of twenty years.