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Decapitation (from Latin, caput, caputis, meaning head) is the separation of the head from the body. Beheading typically refers to the act of intentional decapitation, e.g., as a means of murder or execution; it may be accomplished, for example, with an axe, sword, knife, wire, or by other more sophisticated means such as a guillotine. Ritualistic decapitation after execution by some other means, sometimes followed by public display of the severed head, has also been common throughout history. An executioner carrying out decapitations is called a headsman.

Accidental decapitation can be the result of an explosion, car or industrial accident,[1] improperly administered execution by hanging or other violent injury. Suicide by decapitation is rare, but not unknown.[2]

Decapitation is quickly fatal to humans and most animals as brain death occurs within minutes without circulating oxygenated blood. However, some animals (such as cockroaches) can survive decapitation, and die not because of it, but because of starvation.[3] Although head transplantion via the reattachment of blood vessels has been successful with animals, a fully functional reattachment of a severed head (including repair of the spinal cord, muscles, and other critically important tissues) is not yet possible.

The word decapitation can also refer, on occasion, to the removal of the head from a body that is already dead. This might be done to take the head as a trophy, for public display, to make the deceased more difficult to identify, for cryonics or for other reasons.

In an analogous fashion, decapitation can also refer to the removal of a head of an organization. If, for example, the leader of a country were killed, that might be referred to as 'decapitation'. It is also used of a political strategy aimed at unseating high-profile members of a party, as used by the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom general election, 2005.[4]


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