View Full Version : Could a human survive being "skinned alive"?

08-08-2003, 01:42 AM
...Let it first be said that I have no intention of condoning or performing this act on a living being. Or a dead being either, for that matter.

But still, I'm curious...could a human being survive having his skin removed, even assuming that the flaying took place in a "controlled" clinical environment?

The closest thing to such an injury that I can think of, in real life, would be severe burn victims. And, while being no doctor, I kinda doubt that anyone has ever survived receiving 3rd degree burns over 100% of their body.

So, fellow dopers...anyone feel like taking this one on?


08-08-2003, 04:38 AM
Long term.... no.

The skin is a vital organ. Without it, you can't regulate your body temperature, you leak fluids everywhere, and most seriously, you're wide open to infections.

In order to survive the skin has to be replaced, and if you remove all of someone's skin there'll be no way to replace it (at this time - IF we ever come up with a long-term skin substitute/artificial skin - whatever - that may be a different story)

The individual in question, however, may survive a few days in intensive care before finishing the dying process.

smiling bandit
08-08-2003, 07:42 AM
Theorectically, you could surround them in a temperature controlled plastic "shell" with saline solution insulating them. That might keep them alive for a while.

08-08-2003, 08:59 AM
Teacher: Students, who can tell me the chief use of leather?

Johnny: It holds the cow together.

08-08-2003, 09:01 AM
There was a move a while back with graham Greene called Clear Cut (http://amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/cm/member-reviews/-/A1N1Z7VPUYNDMK/ref%3Dcm%5Ftr%5Ftrl%5Fmr%5F31708/102-4387357-7881700) Where he skins a man from the waist down. Really gruesome scene, very difficult to watch. They did such an accurate job too. Really intense.

Oh nothing more really to add to the OP.

08-08-2003, 09:14 AM
I read a book about David Rothberg, the six year old boy who survived having kerosene thrown on him and being set on fire by his own father. The poor child had third degree burns on over 95% of his body. He owes his life to two strangers who rescued him and expert, costly medical care.

08-08-2003, 09:57 AM
I don't mean to be picky, but if someone is skinned ALIVE, they must have survived at least until the end of the procedure, right? :)

If they're skinned dead, then no, I guess they wouldn't...

08-08-2003, 10:31 AM
I have a friend who backed into a machine at work. The machine caught his ponytail and scalped him. He nearly died. Very nearly. I don't think a person could survive the initial blood loss, which would be massive. Then all the rest of the problems like infection and such would do in anyone who didn't bleed to death.

08-08-2003, 11:09 AM
I have a friend who backed into a machine at work. The machine caught his ponytail and scalped him.

I had a 9 fingered Shop teacher in Highschool back in the mid 80's who showed each and every new class a picture of a scalped student and a scalp sans a head wrapped around the drill bit, pen and all. (there was a pen in the kids ear at the time, now wrapped nicely around the bit)

08-08-2003, 11:18 AM
The machine caught his ponytail and scalped him.
Speaking of scalping, is there any truth to the stories that I have heard and movies that I have seen of Native Americans scalping their vicitims? What was the purpose of scalping? Were the scalps mere trophies, a better way to kill, what?

08-08-2003, 04:36 PM
My many-greats-grandmother was scalped by Indians in western Pennsylvania, and lived many years after. She wore a tight cap to cover the scars.

08-08-2003, 09:58 PM
Originally posted by Penumbra
Speaking of scalping, is there any truth to the stories that I have heard and movies that I have seen of Native Americans scalping their vicitims? What was the purpose of scalping? Were the scalps mere trophies, a better way to kill, what?Scalps were a means of collecting bounties on humans.

There was quite a bit of killing and raiding that went on in the British Colonies even prior to the American Revolution. In some instances, bounties were offered for killing humans in a differing faction than your own or an allied faction. Scalps came only one to a person, and were much more portable than entire corpses. Easier to preserve, too, and thus not so rank when you had to transport them a distance. Wasn't just the natives, the Euro-descended folks also got involved at times.

I don't know if the Plains Indians practiced scalping prior to contact with either Europeans or Euro-influenced tribes, but they most certainly did after such contact. Scalping victims could be either fellow Native Americans or white settlers or, for that matter, free blacks, militia members, or anyone else wandering into disputed territory.

Death was not required for scalping - almost most folks were deceased or nearly so when it occured, plenty survived the experience, too, as Napier mentioned.

Where scalps were not used for collecting bounties they were used as trophies to demonstrate the fighting prowess of the owner.

08-09-2003, 09:06 AM
I think the OP means "If you were carefully prepped, taken into an operating room, had your skin surgically removed, and then given the most intensive medical care possible, could you survive?"

My WAG: just within the realm of possibility. Unlike burn victims, you would have the marginal advantage of having no underlying tissue damage, and losing your skin under the most sterile conditions possible. They might have to float you in a tank of sterile saline until your body scarred over, and your long term health prospects would be extremely doubtful.

08-09-2003, 01:41 PM
Umm, Lumpy? I don't think your body will ever "scar over" from total skin removal, since scarring requires adjacent skin to form. Which is why 3rd-degree burns require skin grafts to heal...they can't heal on their own.

08-09-2003, 04:43 PM
could a human being survive having his skin removed
Most definitely. Take a pumice stone and rub it all over your body. Congratulations- you've just survived being skinned alive! My point is this: how deep of a skinning are we talking about? Does the dermis have to be removed?


08-09-2003, 11:25 PM
I imagine the OP is talking about hardcore, horror-movie type skinning. The OP is kinda vague though... once the person is skinned, do we just send them into the world? Are we doing everything to keep this person alive? Answers to these questions are really going to influence the answers that you receive.

08-10-2003, 12:13 AM
9 out of 10 Aztec high priests say no.

08-10-2003, 06:10 AM
Apoptosis and Sqube—Indeed, yes, I'd intend for the dermis to be removed as part of the "hardcore, horror-movie type skinning" (I didn't need to quote that, I just like the sound of that phrase, for some macabre reason.:cool:) Skinning the hypothetical individual down to the musculature (http://3bscientific.com/html/graphics/charts/vr118.jpg) would be preferred, but I realize that this may be impractical. (More so, I mean.)

And yes, we would be doing everything possible to keep to individual alive.

08-10-2003, 08:38 AM
Originally posted by KGS
Umm, Lumpy? I don't think your body will ever "scar over" from total skin removal, since scarring requires adjacent skin to form. Which is why 3rd-degree burns require skin grafts to heal...they can't heal on their own. Internal injuries form scar tissue, so I thought skin per se wasn't necessary. Anyone?

08-10-2003, 08:58 AM
Yes, internal injuries form scar tissue. But the scar tissue in a liver (for example) or kidney or heart won't function as liver/kidney/heart tissue.

Remember that skin is an organ. Although simply acting as a barrier to the outside is an important function it's just one function that it performs. In addition to forming a physical barrier it's chock full of specialized cells to ward off infection, sensory nerves to warn you of damage, pigment to protect against damaging ultraviolent radiation, sweat glands to cool the body down, subcutaneous fat to keep the body warm ....

Scar tissue does none of that. It's also ridgid and inflexible, either restricting movement or tending to split if over flexed. Even if (and that's an immensely huge "if") the person could be kept alive long enough to form some sort of scar tissue shell, they would lack temperature control, be prone to injury because of lack of sensation in their limbs, burn in sunlight like crazy (and may even be vulnerable under some flourescent lights), and the scar tissue formed from internal tissues likely would not be anywhere near as effective a barrier to infection as that formed from skin cells. You'd have to keep them in a UV proof, germ-free bubble at a very precise temperature and humidity. Their ability to move would probably be severely restricted. They'd probably be blind - the eyes need eyelids and they're basically skin. Yes, in the short-term, burn victims lacking eyelids have been able to keep their sight but it's a constant struggle.

In short - no, you wouldn't survive this sort of thing long-term no matter what was done for you. Maybe some sort of weird skin transplant might work (using immuno-suppressive drugs to prevent rejection) but to my knowledge that's never even been attempted. Maybe it's because the type of injuries that result in total skin loss cause so much other havoc the body just can't survive. In severe burn cases, for example, it's also quite common for the lungs and throat to be seared, or toxic gasses that have been inhaled to cause damage to other vital organs. Severe radiation exposure can destroy the skin - this happened to some of the Chernobyl fire fighters - but it also destroys the intestines and bone marrow as well, both of which are also fatal injuries. Something like Stevens-Johnson Syndrome can cause extensive skin damage - but again, it also usually destroys internal things like the intestines and lungs in those severe cases. Smallpox can also kill large areas of skin tissue - but when that happens you're going to die of either fever, septic shock, or having your intestinal track die off (very gruesome - in that case you literally wind up defecating your innards {{{shudder}}} - where' s that barfing smiley?)

The only way you're going to have someone "skinned alive" with damage to just the skin is sick, demented, icky human intervention. In which case, the party doing the skinning usually has zero interest in preserving the life of the victim (think executions and murder).

08-10-2003, 09:08 AM
Actually, I can imagine someone like Saddam Hussein wanting a victim to survive a flaying, however feebly, as an object lesson to others.

08-10-2003, 09:59 AM
I've worked in several burn units, and I've worked with bone marrow transplants, who can, simply put, reject their skin. I've seen one 99% full thickness burn survive for 1 year. He remained in the burn ICU for that year. He was one of the first to have skin culture grafts. They were taken from the soles of his feet, the only part not burned.
He was transfered to a long term care facility after that year, but died within a week of the transfer.
The skin does more than hold one together. It regulates temperature, it helps to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance. It is the last line of defense against infection.
Here's a little insite into how difficult it is to keep a full thickness large percentage burn alive. For the first 24 hours they require at least 6 liters of fluid PER HOUR. Miss one hour, and they will go into profound shock and be DRT (dead right there)

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