Top Ten Worst Ways to Die

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Posted on April 22nd, 2008

Death comes in different faces and can choose anyone. Naturally, people die because of old age; however, not everyone is lucky enough to die of natural causes. Some unfortunate souls encounter the Grim Reaper in his most menacing form, stealing their last breaths in some of the worst ways imaginable.

If you are a fan of snuff films, torture movies or gory videos, then you probably have an idea of some of the worst ways to die; however, not all ways of dying involve torture or mutilation.

1. Skinned Alive or Flaying

Saint Bartholomew holding his flayed skin
One of the most gruesome torture methods, flaying promises hours of agony and pain. Being flayed alive is almost as painful as being burned alive. Skinning a person is an ancient practice to torture or execute a person. Some tribes, like the Aztecs of Mexico, flayed their victims as part of their rituals for human sacrifice. On the other hand, in Medieval Europe, traitors were executed by being skinned alive in public.

There are many ways to flay a person; some would directly remove their victim’s skin or flesh, while others would pour boiling water on their victim’s skin to make the flaying easier. Either way, the pain was unbearable considering that the victims were alive during the process.

2. Decapitation

A painting depicting decapitation
Decapitation is arguably the most painless execution. The head, if quickly severed, would produce little or no pain at all; however, for those decapitated slowly, the experience was as revolting as the scene it produced. Although decapitation or beheading is rarely practiced today as a method of state-sanctioned execution, it is still practiced in some parts of the world.

Previously, decapitation was used to carry out capital punishment, with the ax or sword as the weapon of choice. It was prevalent mostly in Europe and Asia, and was considered an honorable form of death for noblemen. However, if the blade was blunt and the strike was clumsy, multiple strokes were required to sever the head.

Today, decapitation is practiced in a more grotesque fashion by some rebel groups. Their victims’ heads are sawed off using a knife that could be no bigger than your ordinary kitchen knife.

3. Hanged, Drawn and Quartered

An illustration of a hanged girl
The most dreadful and unbearable of deaths comes in the form of being hanged, drawn and quartered. Although this form of punishment, which was once used to execute men guilty of high treason, is no longer applicable, it is still considered one of the most inhumane forms of penalties.

Before 1814, the prisoner condemned under this penalty was made to undergo the following:

1. The condemned was dragged by a horse or on a hurdle to the execution place.

2. He was momentarily hanged until almost dead.

3. The condemned’s genitals were cut off and burned before him together with his entrails that were slowly drawn out from a cut made on his belly.

4. Finally, the condemned was beheaded and his body was divided into four different parts and gibbeted in different places in England.

It was only in 1870 that this penalty was repealed and deemed too inhumane as a form of punishment. Some of those who died by such a manner were William Wallace, Guy Fawkes and William Blake, to name a few.

4. Dismemberment

A painting of a man about to be dismembered
In the Medieval era, the authorities were very keen on inflicting unforgettably excruciating penalties to those who violated the most sacred laws of the land. One of those penalties was dismemberment.

Under this punishment, the condemned’s limbs were tied to two or more separate movable objects, such as a horse-drawn vehicle. The objects were then made to move in opposite directions, stretching the person’s limbs until these were torn apart.

Francois Ravaillac and Robert-Francois Damiens were executed in such a manner in 1610. In 1998, James Byrd, Jr. of Texas was dismembered by three men who chained him to their pick up truck that dragged him several miles.

5. Burning/ Immolation

Painful flames
Burning is said to be one of the most painful of deaths: imagine yourself cooked to a crisp on an open fire, just like your favorite roasted chicken or pig, but alive and still kicking, feeling every flicker of fire roast an inch of your skin slowly.

Although most people who were caught in a fire (whether intended or not) died of carbon monoxide poisoning before the flames devoured them, those unfortunate enough not to die from suffocation or poisoning were slowly and agonizingly burnt to a crisp. Carbon monoxide poisoning usually occurred if the fire was large; however, if the fire was small, the victim usually died from stroke, shock, or loss of blood plasma.

As a form of execution, burning was used as a penalty for those guilty of witchcraft, heresy and treason. To minimize the pain of the condemned, family members would bring additional straw, called faggots, and firecrackers to the site, placing these on strategic places on the condemned’s body. The lower extremities would burn first before the torso, breasts and face.

6. Poisoning

The symbol of poison
Used often to commit suicide or to carry out assassination plots, poison has been around for hundreds of centuries that it comes in many forms and with varying potencies. Death by poisoning is not always painful as some think. The pain depends on the type of poison used to kill the victim. Like most methods of dying, poison is also used as a method of execution, such as through lethal injection.

Chemicals or synthetic poisons are now popular; however, in the past, natural poisons like venom, were commonly used. Today, people who commit suicide consume household cleaning products like bleach or detergent to poison themselves, while others prefer the ever-trusty arsenic to carry out the deed.

Household cleaning products used as poison, however, causes extreme pain. The chemicals in these products burn the victim’s mouth, throat and internal organs slowly, causing internal bleeding and finally death.

7. Drowning

A drowned girl on the pool
Just like burning, drowning involves a slow process. It is an agonizing experience that is caused by suffocation because the liquid (usually water) interrupts the body’s absorption of oxygen. In other words, the lungs fill up with liquid, blocking the airways. However, the main cause of death is cardiac arrest due to acidosis (increase of acidity in the body’s blood plasma) and hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen).

Death by drowning is not uncommon today; however, in the past, it was also used as a method of execution. The condemned were drowned in a large body of water with their heels tied to a heavy object so they didn’t float and swim away.

8. Heart Removed from the Body While Still Alive

A human heart
Human sacrifices are no longer common these days, but in the past, these were as common and as natural as any form of ritual you’d encounter in church. Sacrificing humans to the deities or gods were supposed to please or appease them.

Although it is now considered a primitive and pagan form of ritual, it cannot be discounted that such practices indeed happened in the past. Both young kids and adults were used as sacrifices, though the manner of sacrificing the individual varied greatly on the customs of the people who practiced such rituals.

One of the most inhumane forms of human sacrifice was the removing the heart from the victim while he or she was still alive. The Aztecs are famous for this type of human sacrifice although they’ve used other forms of rituals as well.

Mass sacrifices were made to the gods; most of the victims were prisoners of war or captives from other villages. A cut was made on the victim’s chest and the priest would rip the heart out of its victim while it was still beating. After this, the victim’s head was chopped off and the head and body were thrown down the long steps of the temple.

9. Sickness: HIV, Cancer

Sick in bed
In the modern world, where burning at the stake, dismemberment and other scary forms of torture are not immediate threats, most people worry about dying because of sickness. The only non-violent modes of death in this top-ten list involve two types of sickness some people consider scarier than death: HIV and cancer.

Though there are a sundry of far deadlier diseases in the world, HIV and cancer are ranked among the most dreaded forms of diseases because not only do they cause pain, but they are also very common. People with HIV are considered dead men/women walking—it will only take a matter of time before they succumb to complications caused by other diseases (Learn how to test for HIV).

On the other hand, people with cancer have a fighting chance of survival. Still, not everyone wins the battle with cancer since there is no cure and only treatment is available.

10. Electrocution

The symbol for electrocution
A portmanteau for electric execution, the term electrocution refers to any manner of death caused by electric shock. Deliberate electrocution was used widely as a form of capital punishment in the past. Today, not many countries or states practice electrocution by electric chair since a more humane form of execution–that by lethal injection–is currently preferred.

People who die due to electrocution have their innards burnt due to the electric current; however, what kills them is the direct impact of the electric current on the brain. Unlike being burned at the stake, the victim’s skin usually stays intact, without much physical manifestation of burning.

It takes some time for the victim to die, depending on the voltage of the current that passes to the brain. A very strong current could mean instant death. When used as a form of capital punishment, the victim’s head is covered with a wet sponge to quicken the process. However, even with it, the process is still agonizing and extremely painful.


Despite this list, there are more than ten worst ways to die. Over the centuries, people suffered from being boiled alive, buried alive and tortured to death. These forms are no longer extensively practiced today; yet, for those inclined to morbidity, they might find it fascinating to know that new ways to die are yet to be discovered.

Since electrocution is such a bad way to go, the Top 10 Safety Tips on Handling Electrical Wiring should spare you from an early demise.

* No matter how cruel or how gruesome your death may seem to be, you ought to be remembered for all the good things you’ve done. With these tips on remembering the dead, your funeral will be less nasty or scary than the way your life ended.


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  1. carlos george said,

    on 2008-10-22 at 23:32:33

    Ouch! This is the best page to visit when you have a lot of enemies though.

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