Joseph Ignace Guillotin, a French physician, born in Saintes, May 28, 1738, died in Paris, May 2G, 1814. He studied under Antoine Petit, graduated as doctor in medicine in 1770 at Rheims, and became professor of anatomy, pathology, and physiology in Paris. He was one of the commissioners appointed to investigate the experiments of Mesmer in animal magnetism, and joined with Lavoisier, Bailly, and Franklin in their celebrated report upon that subject. In 1788 he increased his popularity by a pamphlet in favor of giving the tiers etat a representation equal to that of the two other orders, and was elected in 1789 to the constituent assembly. In that body he brought forward various sanitary measures. His name, however, is principally associated with the proposition which he made that decapitation, a mode of punishment previously reserved for nobles and regarded as less ignominious than death by hanging, should be adopted for criminals of all classes. He also proposed that the decapitation should be effected by machinery instead of by the axe or the sword, in order that the suffering might be less.

In 1791 Guillotin's motion was renewed in a somewhat altered form by Lepelletier de Saint-Fargeau; and on March 20, 1792, the legislative assembly, on a report presented by Dr. Antoine Louis, the perpetual secretary of the academy of surgery, adopted a resolution ordering a machine for decapitation described by the same to be adopted. This machine, in the invention and construction of which Guillotin had no share whatever, received at first the name of louison or louisette, which was soon superseded by that of guillotine, first used in a satirical song published in the royalist newspaper Les actes des apotres. Guillotin was imprisoned during the reign of terror, and afterward resumed medical practice.