after beheading is there a short period of consciencness before death?

20 Answers

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago
    Favourite answer

    The guillotine was adopted by the French as a humane form of execution in 1791, and it remained the legal form of capital punishment until 1981. The machine was so quick to cut through the neck that observers noticed evidence of lingering consciousness right away.

    One of the most beloved (and most dementedly radical) of the leaders of the French Revolution was Jean Marat, who used his newspaper to encourage a massacre of 1200 prisoners in September 1792. A young woman called Charlotte Corday murdered Marat in revenge for these killings and was sent to the guillotine.

    Because Marat was very popular with the Paris mob the executioner picked up her severed head and slapped it across the checks. Many witnesses said the the face reacted to the slap; the eyes turned to the look at the executioner and the expression became one of indignation or anger.

    Medically the brain can live for about 7 minutes after heart action stops, but coma usually sets in in a matter of seconds. There have been cases when cardiac arrest patients have been conscious and aware for up to a minute afterwards. Beheading, however, is accompanied with massive blood loss around the brain tissue so there is immediate shock as well as cessation of respiration.

    Here are the remarks of a French surgeon who witnessed a beheading in 1905:

    "Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. This phenomenon has been remarked by all those finding themselves in the same conditions as myself for observing what happens after the severing of the neck...

    I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. [...] It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: 'Languille!' I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.

    Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again[...].

    It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement – and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead."

    How much of that represents conscious awareness or just reflex is beyond me.


    Beheading with a guillotine is a special case because the falling blade slices through the neck very efficiently. Using an axe or sword, as was common in medieval Europe for the execution of nobles, probably produced a high degree of blunt force trauma to the head such that the victim was generally rendered unconscious with the first blow. (It's really alarming to read accounts of botched beheadings, Sometimes it took three or four chops with the victim writhing and howling all the while. This is why experts were employed, sometimes at great expsense, to execute high nobles. Using an axe to chop a head in one blow isn't a job for amateurs)

    The neck is a tough target; the vertebrae, muscle, tendons and ligaments make the neck quite resistant to being severed. A typical European medieval sword wasn't well suited for chopping heads in one blow. Axes are also not very efficient as head choppers because the neck will flex enough to absorb and disperse much of the energy of an axe blow. To do the job quickly the neck must be sliced more than chopped. This is why a guillotine works so well. The angled knife creates a slicing effect as it falls. Among swords only a good Japanese katana wielded by an expert is likely to slice off a head in one stroke.

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

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    after beheading is there a short period of consciencness before death?

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  • 1 decade ago

    This question was much debated during the French Revolution, especially during the Red Terror with public executions by guillotine a frequent event. There are various anecdotes seeming to attest to facial actions and taken as evidence of consciousness.

    There are neural connections and muscular actions after beheading, just as chickens will run around after beheading (and a few battlefield stories report similar actions by humans). Humans are more than nerves and muscle.

    In the circumstance, what does it matter at which precise second human thought ends, or when bodily death is officially declared.

  • marria
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    Botched Beheadings

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  • 1 decade ago

    Although no can be certain, there may be a brief period of consciousness. The circumstances of the decapitation would play a major factor as well. If an unfortunate individual, experienced it in such a manner where the head was ripped off (some sort of accident) probably not. If a guillotine was employed there would probably be a greater likelihood. Certainly any type of situation would be tragic...with the potential exception of legal execution...

  • 1 decade ago

    From what I've read, they think that there is. They say that back in the day when they used to behead people, the head would come off and the eyes would still blink and the mouth would move as if the head was trying to talk, for several seconds. Creepy.

  • KeWr
    Lv 5
    1 decade ago

    I really don't think anyone could answer that 100% affirmative.

    Unless you know someone who was stitched back together and brought back....

    There have been many many studies, and although it sometimes appears consciousness is occurring, no one was able to prove that eyes darting around, blinking, mouthing words, was nothing more than neural activity. The spinal cord has been severed. How would we ever answer this conclusively?

  • 1 decade ago


    Gruesome experiments done in the French Revolution prove it. Same with hanging - even with a clean break there is about 30 seconds left.

  • 1 decade ago

    To behead someone it is necessary to give an enormously gigantic whack on the neck. And if someone gets a whack like that on his head or somewhere near his head, he is sure to be knocked unconscious immediately.

  • 1 decade ago

    there's room for debate but most lean to yes. They say your brain still has oxygen and can function for up 13-15 seconds after you loss your head.

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