5 Awful Torture Methods (Invented For Humanitarian Reasons)

Humans have come up with all sorts of ways to inflict suffering on one other, from torture devices, to psychological manipulation, to Denny's. You might reasonably assume that the people inventing these new and terrible forms of torture were pure, unadulterated evil -- but that's not always the case. Sometimes, they were honestly trying to help. For example...

Advertisement

5
Lobotomies Were Meant To Be A Humane Alternative To Mental Hospitals

For decades, the idea of jamming a spike through someone's cerebrum was considered a legitimate treatment for everything from panic attacks to nervous indigestion. Potential side effects included the loss of inhibition, catatonic states, and death -- which isn't that surprising, considering that lobotomists weren't exactly sure what they were doing, or even where in the brain to target. They were essentially playing Operation inside your cranium.

Harris A Ewing/The Saturday Evening Post"Now we remove the instruments from the brain, and ..."
"Tht wss mmh tnngue."

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

What kind of monsters would send someone to get lobotomized? Mostly people trying to keep their loved ones, or themselves, from ending up in an asylum. Before we had things like antipsychotic medication, treatment options for mental health issues were basically limited to straightjackets and confinement. So when the lobotomy came along and promised a simple procedure that could get rid of those nasty thoughts, volunteers weren't hard to find. Hell, some people went back for repeats.

The world's preeminent lobotomist, Walter Freeman, promised that a "lobotomy gets them home," and for the most part, he was right. A lobotomized patient might come back with a duller personality, and needing to relearn how to use the bathroom -- but hey, they came back! Uh, except the 13 percent who ended up worse, or the 3 percent who died. But lots of people still liked those chances better than what they faced in a mental hospital.

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Lobotomies only went out of style when less invasive, cheaper treatments such as Thorazine were introduced. Even though they advertised the drug like a John Carpenter film, for some

GlaxoSmithKlineThorazine! Starring Kurt Russell and Keith David.

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

4
Sleep Deprivation Was Supposed To Be A "Nice" Way To Avoid Physical Torture

Being kept awake for several days is no picnic. Doctors insist that prolonged wakefulness produces psychosis, and is tantamount to brain damage, hampering bodily functions and inflicting psychological scars normally only observed among viewers of recent Adam Sandler movies.

So it's ironic that the people who came up with this form of torture did so out of compassion and empathy... relatively speaking. Even during the height of the witch-hunting craze in pre-Enlightenment Europe, governments had concerns about the legality and morality of their horrifying interrogation techniques. Spanish Inquisitors advised against breaking bones if possible. When everyone's going around stretching people to death and such, depriving someone of sleep was one of the few ways an interrogator could show "leniency."

Wiki Commons"Listen, I like you, so I'm gonna let you sleep on that question for a few days. Well, not literally."

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Scotland became the first country to adopt sleep deprivation on a wider scale in the 1640s, since they considered it "less legally dubious" than stuff like Spain's beloved rack. Plus, it got fast results! Or so they thought. Because going two or more days without sleep tends to produce hallucinations, jailers took ravings about flying or turning into animals as confessions of witchcraft instead of annoying conversations about stupid visuals, and were able to execute the accused with a clear conscience.

3
Solitary Confinement Started As A Path To Enlightenment And Rehabilitation

Locking someone up for 23 hours a day in a tiny cubicle with no windows and no human interaction is not particularly conducive to good mental health, it turns out. The practice has been shown to lead to psychosis, suicidal thoughts, PTSD, and permanent alteration of the brain. And here's the soulless bastard who popularized it:

Quaker OatsWe expected this from Toucan Sam or Tony the Tiger, but not you.

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Horrified by the primitive conditions of dirty, crowded, violent prisons in the 18th century, Quakers formulated a humanitarian solution that drew inspiration from monastic orders. The whole point was to redeem inmates without whips or public humiliation. Judging by their hats, they were probably immune to that last part, anyway.

Solitary confinement was supposed to be the great innovation that would reform the brutal American penal system. The Quakers devised the idea of a lone prisoner doing penance like a monk in a clean, private cell, reading their Bible in silent contemplation, reflecting on their sins and the meaning of life. Then they tried it out for real, and things went south fast. Rather than liberating prisoners, it drove inmates out of their minds and led many to insanity or suicide. The Quakers forgot that even monks shoot the shit with each other, engage in meaningful work, and sometimes get trashed on homebrewed wine.

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Once guards and wardens figured out it was an easy route to fuck with prisoners, solitary quickly devolved into routine disciplinary action. Today we have prisons that are basically big masses of solitary confinement units. They should have just made 'em wear the funny hats.

2
The "Truth Serum" Was Supposed To Prevent Wrongful Convictions

Scopolamine, sodium pentothal, and sodium amytal are better known as "the truth serum," when they should be known as "some bullshit that only works in spy movies." Truth serums do make people blather, but there's no scientific evidence that it makes them blather the actual truth. Unscrupulous shrinks have long used these drugs to force lurid, book-worthy stories out of patients, with little care for whether they happened or not. That's actually how we got the stupid satanic sex panics of the 1980s.

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

But that wasn't the plan. Truth serums were intended not to coerce dubious confessions or allegations, but to free innocent suspects. It makes as much sense as billy clubs designed for physical therapy, but the first non-medical uses of the drug were advocated under the guise of ethical policing. While working with pregnant women in the 1920s, obstetrician Robert House noted their reduced inhibition while under scopolamine. And, bless his soul, the man's first thought was "This could revolutionize crime-fighting!" House suggested the tool to law enforcement officials as a great way to end wrongful incarceration, and began acting as an uncompensated pitchman for truth serums ... which means that in all likelihood, he accidentally sent a whole lot of innocent people to prison. Whoops.

Wikipedia"Warning: May cause drowsiness, nausea, and tats."

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Believing they'd discovered a foolproof method to extract the truth, every bent cop and interrogator adopted the drug, but without any of the pesky ethics House had in mind. It wasn't until the 1960s that the Supreme Court declared a truth serum confession unconstitutional. On the upside, this whole thing eventually led to some funny moments in the latest Ant-Man movie. Let the healing begin.

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

1
The Electric Chair Was Supposed To Be A Quick And Easy Way To Go

Between the exploding heads, the sizzling flesh, the blood spurting out of orifices, and the botched executions that periodically drag out over 15 minutes, the electric chair is the stuff of nightmares. Today, the chair is used in only a handful of U.S. states that are unusually fond of the stench of burning hair. Because criminals should die as horribly as possible, right?

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

Well, that's the exact opposite intention of the electric chair's inventor. Engineer Alfred Southwick was trying to make a near-instantaneous, painless way to shuffle off undesirables (as opposed to hanging, in which the condemned sometimes had to be revived and re-executed). Before the state of New York took Southwick's suggestion, a board of reformers came up with 34 rejected methods which could replace hanging, ranging from blowing the condemned up with cannons to throwing them off a cliff -- oh, also impalement, fire, boiling, crushing with a giant mortar and pestle. It was like a particularly dark brainstorming session in a Wile E. Coyote writer's room.

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

To be fair, electricity was kind of a new thing back in Southwick's day, and he didn't quite know what it would do to the human body. You may remember that famed inventor and Cracked Rogues Gallery Chief, Thomas Edison, suggested using alternating current in Southwick's chair... solely to undermine rival George Westinghouse's preferred tech (or just to ensure the confused ghost haunted someone else).

WikipediaTossing a Westinghouse toaster into a bathtub was too subtle a PR prank.

Continue Reading Below

Advertisement

After trying the chair on stray animals ('good intentions' is a relative term all throughout this article), Southwick proved its feasibility on humans ... sort of. The first electric chair guinea pig, William Kemmler, took four minutes to die, prompting incredulous screams from witnesses. His corpse was hot to the touch for hours afterward. Annoyed at the negative press AC technology received, Westinghouse summed up the debacle best: "They could have done a better job with an ax." Good thing we ... kept using the chair anyway for over a century? Hahaha, we suck so much.

Support your favorite Cracked writers with a visit to our Contribution Page. Please and thank you.

For more, check out 7 Real (And Totally Insane) Medical Practices From History and The 5 Most Insane Modern Medical Procedures That Work.

Also, we'd love to know more about you and your interesting lives, dear readers. If you spend your days doing cool stuff, drop us a line at iDoCoolStuff at Cracked dot com, and maybe we can share your story with the entire internet.

Follow us on Facebook. Because why not?

To turn on reply notifications, click here

155 Comments

Load Comments

More Articles

5 Famous Old Movies That Now Look Painfully Stupid In 2019

The flow of time is cruel to us all.

193

6 Insanely Complex Pop Culture Mysteries Solved By Fans

Some particularly obsessed fans sacrifice huge amounts of time and effort to come up with answers so we can all sleep a little better at night.

67

6 Utterly Insane Movie Moments Everybody Forgets Exist

Lots of people forgot these movie moments ... but, like, how?

156

5 Cute Easter Eggs That Turned Into Huge Disasters

Rarely does an Easter egg shatter your hold on reality ... but these just might.

79

6 Classic Films That Almost Turned Out Terrible

Let us gaze into the parallel realities where these famous movies are really just infamously terrible.

161

6 Directors Who Use The Same Weird Scene In Every Movie

You'll never unsee these unusual tics.

70