How Long Can You Survive Being Decapitated?

If you get your head cut off, you most likely will not survive. How long can you last until your body finally shuts down?

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As crazy (and creepy) as it may sound, reports about humans surviving decapitation--heads reacting and even trying to speak--go back several centuries. One particularly chilling story comes from Dr. Gabriel Beaurieux who studied a beheading in 1905. The condemned man's head was cleanly severed by a guillotine blade and left to fall into a basket at which point the face started twitching. Then, when Beaurieux called out the dead man's name, the severed head's eyes lifted up and met Beaurieux's in the same way that "a person's would when pulled from a daydream." There's some modern scientific evidence to support the idea that the dead man's look might have been a somewhat conscious reaction.

In 2011, Dutch scientists hooked an electroencephalograph or EEG to the brains of mice, before cutting off their heads. When they measured their post-decapitation brain activity, incredibly, the results showed activity at frequencies of conscious levels for almost four seconds. Similar studies done on smaller animals suggest that brain activity can last even longer once the head is no longer attached to its body.

When a human is decapitated, it severs the spinal cord, and there's no way any human could survive that kind of decapitation...unless you're undergoing a whole head transplant. Controversial surgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy has proposed the idea for a head transplant for patients whose muscles and nerves have degenerated, fusing their sound mind with an equally sound body. He's proposed the procedure based on an extremely complex technique. It's highly controversial and experts have a number of concerns--the biggest being that medical science has never been able to re-attach a severed spinal cord.

Read More:

First human head transplant could happen in two years (New Scientist)
"A radical plan for transplanting a head onto someone else's body is set to be announced. But is such ethically sensitive surgery even feasible?"

Some experiments with severed heads (All Kinds of History)
"Early on the morning of 18 February 1848, two men and a woman walked into the square in front of the Porte de Hal, in Brussels, where a public execution was due to take place shortly after dawn."

Do you really stay conscious after being decapitated? (How Stuff Works)
"The molecular biologist Francis Crick, one half of the research team that discovered the structure of DNA, later in his career came up with what he called The Astonishing Hypothesis."