According to French studies on victims of the guillotine:
Since the execution of Charlotte Corday[1– the assassin of Jean-Paul Marat[2– in 1793 there has been much discussion on the subject in France.Eyewitnesses had reported that her face was infuriated when the executioner lifted her head and punched her in the face.
This was not, of course, a scientific observation, but it ignited a debate that lasted until the beginning of the 20th century.
One day, a French doctor, Beaurieux, was allowed to carry out an examination of the severed head of a man named Languille[3,immediately after his beheading.According to the article about the guillotine on Wikipedia, his report reads as follows:
“The following was immediately apparent after the beheading: the eyelids and lips of the decapitated man continued to work for about 4 to 6 seconds in irregular rhythmic contractions.
I waited a few seconds longer. The spastic movements stopped. The face relaxed, the lids were half closed, so that only the white part of the conjunctiva remained visible; pretty much like the dying we see every day. Then, in a strong, clear voice, I shouted, “Languille!”. Then I saw the eyelids slowly opening, this time without cramping contraction – I stress this peculiarity consciously – but with an even movement, quite clear and normal, as is the case in everyday life with people who are just out of sleep or their thoughts are torn. The next moment, Languille’s eyes fixed on my and his pupils focused. I was not dealing here with a murky, expressionless look that can be observed so often in dying people:it was undeniably living eyes that watched me there.
Until 1956, further research had shown – as the government advisors Dr. Piedelievre and Fournier claim – that “death by beheading does not occur immediately, because every vital element survives.
It is a barbaric vivisection,[4whose victims are buried alive.”.
The guillotine’s last execution in France took place in 1977 鈥?the murderer Hamida Djandoubi died that year.It was not until 1981 that France abolished the death penalty for good.
The last public use of the guillotine[5,on the other hand, was in 1939:
Since the victims could not speak, of course, no one can say with certainty how much pain they actually had to endure, but it looks as if they have remained conscious for quite a while , at least in some cases.
My personal experience with painful accidents is that I have not felt any pain at all in the first few minutes (even if the pain afterwards was agonizing).
That is why I believe that the same was the case with a guillotine beheading.
Nevertheless, I would like to point out that there is a serious difference in accidents:
They come unexpectedly.
By contrast, the victims on the block were well aware that they had to die in the moments that followed.
I remember a root canal treatment at the dentist, where I also knew that the pain would come soon; and in fact they were there immediately when the dentist started his equipment.
So I suspect that at least some of them must have felt terrible pain.
Murdering criminals is in any case a barbaric act, but it looks as if the guillotine is not as humane as the inventor intended.
The English version of the question was already linked, but I allowed myself to translate what I consider to be the most interesting answer.