Risus sardonicus: Assisted suicide or ritual violent euthanasia?
A handful of citations links a proverb about laughing at one’s own death with ancient Sardinian customs that are undeniably related to euthanasia (Broccia, 2001, 2002; Erasmus of Rotterdam, 2005; Mercklin, 1851; Perra, 1997; Rubichini, 2003). The proverb refers to the expression sardônios gélôs or risus sardonicus, and the quotations attempt to explain the paradox of laughing in the face of death. Nowadays, risus sardonicus is a medical term indicating a facial expression characterized by raised eyebrows and grinning distortion of the facial muscles caused by spasms. This facial muscular contraction mimics a sinister smile, and it is the hallmark of lockjaw (trismus), a pathognomonic sign of tetanus (Farrar et al., 2000), which can also occur in some brain diseases (Sibon,&Burbaud, 2004; Wenning, Geser, & Poewe, 2003). According to some ancient historians, the old people of Sardinia who were unable to support themselves were intoxicated with a poisonous herb, then dropped from a high rock or beaten to death (Table 1).