I have a species that is born with small wings, that grow to be able to carry them by the magic of handwavium, but they are human in all other respects. It’s the Middle Ages, and the inquisition has started. The church is hunting down my species for impersonating angels. The adults whose wings can carry them are fine, but many parents are opting to remove their children’s (not nessicaraly infants) wings whilst they are young, as the church is okay with those who renounce the so called heresy. The church is also performing the amputations on any of the angel creatures they find.

How might I limit the deaths and trauma from this procedure?

Note: this is not the church as we know it, but a church after a cult took them over. Hence this happening in the first place.

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    Note that the reality of the Inquisition suggests the Church would not have been OK with cutting off the wings. Proof of the existence of the wings (substantial and unavoidable scarring) would still be deemed angelic by those who wish to believe. Like the witches and so-called witches of old. They'd be executed, amputated wings or not. But... you're handwaving the ability to fly.... – JBH Oct 20 at 4:08
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    Also note that realisticly the true reason to prosecute them might be power. The church was the most powerfull organization at that time, but someone claiming to be connected to God defies that power. The leading clerics would want them to disappear and they'd find any religious reason to make them disappear. – Elmy Oct 20 at 7:21
  • Elmy is right. But they are claiming religion. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 15:25
  • Also just to not, due to the nature of my handwavium they wind up with ‘phantom wings’ and can still fly as adults. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 20:52
  • One Idea that I got after asking the question is the conclusion that is would be massively helpful for the church to have a female member of the clergy on hand. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 20:56
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Amputations of limbs following battlefield injuries has been performed for centuries. It was thought better to have a relatively small wound than a wound that compromised a large amount of the limb. A skilled surgeon could remove a limb in around ten seconds, and after that, stitching up and bandaging the stump would take a minute or so.

Yes, there are risks. Asepsis wasn't recognised until the eighteenth century, but amputation was still a better risk than leaving an extensively wounded limb attached.

Now, removing wings may depend upon how they are attached. If they are attached to the ribcage by an independent scapula, it may be faster - and by extension, preferable - to remove them complete with the scapula, as the scapula is effectively floating, and can be removed in under a minute - I can attest to this personally, as in a University Zoology practical class, were asked to dissect a sheep, and were challenged to remove both a foreleg and a hind leg, and were timed while doing so. It took me well under a minute to remove the foreleg and scapula with a not-particularly-sharp 3" pocket knife.

On the other hand, if the wings are attached more solidly, perhaps to the same scapula as the arms, or to an intermediate pelvis-like structure, with a ball-and-socket joint, then either the ball joint would have to be disarticulated, or the bone cut. Cutting a bone can be done in a matter of five to ten seconds with the right tools, but with only the aforementioned 3" folding pocket knife, it took me around a minute to disarticulate the aforementioned sheep's femoral joint and remove the hind leg, and was much more of a hack-job than removing the foreleg.

Considering that the subjects of these amputations will not be anesthetised, the other point to amputating rapidly was to minimise pain. Pain may also be managed by exposing the subject to loud noises at the critical moment, as a matter of distraction.

Alcohol is a good disinfectant when distilled, but it is a very poor anaesthetic, as the dose required to achieve anaesthesia is very close to the lethal dose, and given the lag between administering it and its taking effect, it is very easy to kill the subject.

Opiates and cannabis can provide good pain relief even if they can't provide complete anaesthesia - if they are available.

So, if your winged people want to engage in this barbaric practice, the best way to minimise deaths and trauma is to use the services of a person with much experience and skill in performing the procedure - that way, the time in unanaesthetised surgery will be minimised. Asepsis would be good, but they likely won't think of it, and a lot of lives will be lost unnecessarily, even though many more will be saved.

However, to save the greatest number of innocent lives, the winged folk descending from the sky to run a spear through the bodies of the clergy and their assistants who would perform such barbarism, declaring as they do so that God does not approve - play up the Guardian/Avenging Angel aspect - would be the most effective course of action, though this is not exactly what the OP asked.

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    This brings up a good point. Being able to fly is really really valuable for many uses. So you could probably find sanctuary in any sane military minded kings court. "Hey, ive got flying soldiers and you havent. now gimme your allegiance or die". In either case availability of angellike creatures would probably had some effect on how the belief was formed. – joojaa Oct 20 at 6:40
  • The problem being you can’t fly till 30-40 so you have a hard time surviving that long. An people totally do the stabbing clergy thing, they are just hopelessly outnumbered. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 15:23
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    Bird wings are connected to the core similar as to how our arm is collected to the shoulder (Caveat: I'm not a zoologist). It really depends on the design of the human angels, but I strongly doubt it would just be another scapula. The human's scapula is connected directly to the back rips, but also to the Sternum via the clavicula. I envision that it would rather work by having a more complex Scapula with a separate joint. It might be easier to "luxuate" the wing on purpose and cut it off in that way. – Narusan Oct 20 at 15:26
  • What the church at this time doesn’t know is that the people with removed wings wind up with gosh wings and can still fly and use said wings. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 20:55
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    there is some evidence that the roman doctors did practice some sterilization, even if they did not know why it worked. If this practice had persisted it would help a lot. – John Oct 21 at 14:57

No idea about how to avoid trauma, but in the Middle Ages there was castration and punitive amputation of hands, none of those must have been pleasant.

Amputation was done with a tourniquet (a double one if the doctor was good), a swift cut with a saw and then they started with vascular ligatures (tying off blood vessels), covering the stump with a flap of skin. Then, they bandaged the area with linen covered in vinegar to avoid infections. In the worst cases, they used cauterization (closing the blood vessels by burning them), but they knew it was dangerous for the recuperation of the patient.

  • Useful, but better for cylindrical limbs than wings, which would leave massive long gashes on the back. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 3:13
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    @AmeliaHarris Maybe they can find a part of the wings they can cut without destroying the back? They don't need to look "perfect", just wingless. In the Middle Ages people was used to disfiguring wounds, croked limbs, etc. – Alberto Yagos Oct 20 at 7:26
  • The point is so if they have a shirt on you can’t tell they had wings. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 15:14

Circumcision has been done for centuries, which could be an analog for wings removal. But there are some differences on the procedure to note. While in circumcision you basically cut skin, in wings you have bones.

While some deaths are inevitable, the proper technique should avoid some of them.

  • Clean the area with clean water and some fortified wine. The more alcohol the better.
  • Use clean and sharp knife, make it red hot moments before the procedure.
  • DON'T, IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, CUT THE BONE. Osteomielites is a dangerous and deadly infection.
  • Cut the joint near the body and close the wound with stitches. Boiled stitches.
  • Every day change the dressings, you can clean it with fortified wine and antiseptic herbs to your liking.

If you get an abscess, open the stitches and drain. Also, start praying, a lot.

  • That last sentence makes for an interesting plot point. Something like if you die, it's because you were unholy and your god didn't want you to live. – John Locke Oct 20 at 2:21
  • This is a good idea on the first point of preventing death but is less useful for preventing trauma, a rather major point due to the hope of causing Stolckhom Syndrome which doesn’t really work if a kid has really bad PTSD because of you. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 3:11
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    its actually rather difficult to traumatize newborns, their memories are not good enough. – John Oct 20 at 3:35
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    As John said, newborns up to 28 days have their brains in survival mode, meaning they function by instinct. The brain is too primitive in this state to produce a long lasting memory that would impair PTSD. – Faed Oct 20 at 4:22
  • I was thinking of this as children not babies, hence why I used the term. Also the church is capturing any of the wing people they find. Not just kids. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 15:17

Amputations are never safe, even with modern medicine. In the middle ages they were often the difference between a fast and painful death from an injury and a slow and painful death from infection, with few survivors.

  • Unless your surgeon learnt his trade in the army --- they generally had higher success rates, if only because they did more of the procedures than non military surgeons and kind of had an inkling what they were about. – elemtilas Oct 20 at 2:55
  • This just says why not, not how. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 3:12
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    @AmeliaHarris, frame challenges (challenging the legitimacy of your Q) are acceptable. During the U.S. Civil War, Union surgeons suffered a 26% death rate. That number would be considered appaling to the point of criminal charges against the surgeon today. In the middle ages, fatality rates were much, much higher. They didn't have the experience, knowledge, technique, equipment, or medicines of the Civil War era. Therefore, a dire warning is a sensible "no." – JBH Oct 20 at 4:05
  • I agree that this does not answer the question... and neither is it a frame challenge, as it does not suggest any alternatives. Yes, amputations were risky, but it didn't stop them from occurring in the real world - even medically unnecessary punitive amputations. – Monty Wild Oct 20 at 6:06
  • So I said reduce not prevent. A 30% rate is better than a 100% rate. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 15:15

The safest amputation, in any era, is no amputation at all!

And the reasoning is simple: assuming by "church" you mean the Church (i.e., the Catholic Church), I find it next to utterly unbelievable that they would so bother with a subset of the population as to necessitate parents torturing and disfiguring their children for the sake of their safety.

There are many issues I see with the premise:

  • First, it's not a "heresy" to be born with wings. Heresy means a willful choice to believe other than what is accepted as Truth. If you grow up Catholic and learn the basics of catechism and so forth and then decide at some point that you don't like Jesus being God and invent a new religion where Jesus isn't God, that's heresy. And at the time, that could certainly land you in trouble!
  • I really can't imagine any parent would let their child go through that torture! (My own world has winged folk, too -- they would be utterly repulsed by the very notion!). I think most parents would rather hide their children away, send them away to a safe country or leave and go to a different country or region first rather than cut their limbs off.
  • If this is supposed to be the Church (i.e., Catholicism) then I hardly find it convincing or credible that they'd run around trying to round up "counterfeit angels". I also hardly find it convincing that the Inquisition (which of the three varieties?) would be so interested in killing these winged people! This smacks more of Dan Brown sensationalism than anything rooted in history, theology or faith.
  • The Inquisitions (there were three over the course of a long millennium) were certainly an embarrassment to the Church, but it was hardly the bloodfest it's made out to be in the popular culture. Their targets were individuals accused of various theological & moral crimes (heresy being the principle one).

Basically: there's really no need to worry about wing amputations (disarticulations, actually), because the notion is really quite silly in historical context.

In any event, even if I could suspend disbelief without (intellectually) hurling, all these people really have to do is pick up their kids and fly away from their tormentors!

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    the practice of circumcisions would disagree with your premise. – John Oct 20 at 3:32
  • Hardly. The Church has never required circumcision. Obviously: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. (Galatians) Medically, knicking off a bit of skin that heals very quickly is nothing at all like the grueling torture of huge incisions across your back, the hacking away of muscle & tendon with unsterile instruments, the pushing & pulling & twisting & yanking to break the cartilege, (con.t) – elemtilas Oct 20 at 4:23
  • the application of cautery irons, the closure with coarse sutures & the application of dubious dressings & poultices in the hopes of staving off infection. – elemtilas Oct 20 at 4:23
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    While I agree with you, this does not answer the question as it was written. The question takes it as an established fact that some parents or inquisitors have wings amputated from winged people. We must proceed from there. – Monty Wild Oct 20 at 4:27
  • The church could have been taken over by an extremist cult, or just one country’s branch. – Tanzanite Dragoness Oct 20 at 15:18

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