In Largest Medical Study of Near-Death Experiences, Awareness Lasts Beyond Brain Waves

In Largest Medical Study of Near-Death Experiences, Awareness Lasts Beyond Brain Waves

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An international study of near death experiences shows nearly two-in-five people resuscitated from cardiac arrest experienced awareness for several minutes after their brains stopped functioning.

The research suggests the light at the end of the tunnel that some people believe is the afterlife may be, more importantly, an extended second chance at this lifetime.

The brain normally shuts down completely, about 30 seconds after the heart stops, but multiple studies by a team of researchers called AWARE (AWareness during REsuscitation) are pushing that time frame, suggesting people can be resuscitated much later than previously thought.

Scientists at the University of Southhampton spent four years studying cardiac arrest cases in the UK, North America, and Europe. They interviewed 140 of the 300 survivors in their study and found 39% of them had similar experiences.

People recounted seeing bright lights, being dragged through water or separated from their bodies. Others said they felt their senses sharpened during the experience.

In their latest study, the researchers heard several recollections like those of a patient who described in great detail how a hospital team resuscitated his heart three minutes after “death.”

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“The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals,” said Dr. Sam Parnia, a former research fellow at Southampton University who led the study said.

The fact that the man could hear the very specific beeping and describe the hospital’s procedures in detail showed Dr. Parnia the man was aware of his surroundings during resuscitation – long after he should have been clinically dead.

Dr. Parnia and his team also hide items in hospital rooms of their subjects that would be visible from above. If patients talked about “floating above the room” but not seeing the items, the team records that as a false memory.

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This was the third study by Dr. Parnia, or his team, into near-death experiences. Their research isn’t looking for proof of an afterlife, but, in part, how blood flow to the brain is affected during resuscitation and how to reverse the effects of clinical death. Other studies by the team have looked at post traumatic stress among patients resuscitated long after their hearts stopped beating.

Skeptics of an afterlife, such as Christopher French, a psychology professor at the University of London calls near death experiences like the one Parnia studies, “complex hallucinatory experiences.” Parnia prefers to argue that death is a more “fluid” concept, happening gradually rather than at a specific moment. He argued that, in at least some cases, death is a “potentially reversible process,” and hopes the studies will encourage more research into the field.

The study was published in the journal Resuscitation. (Photo by CaptPiper, CC)

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