Many of us have the feeling that there is something to near-death experiences and that perhaps consciousness could survive after brain-death. The problem is that no large-scale scientific studies have been conducted on the matter – until now.
The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study, launched in 2008, looked in depth at over 2000 patients from 15 hospitals in the United Kingdom, United States and Austria who experienced cardiac arrest and were subsequently resuscitated. What they found was that almost 40% of those patients had experienced some kind of ‘awareness’ while being resuscitated, despite being clinically dead.
The study, led by Dr. Sam Parnia, from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, spanned four years. The results were published in December of last year. The scientist explained the modus operandi behind the research:
“Contrary to perception, death is not a specific moment but a potentially reversible process that occurs after any severe illness or accident causes the heart, lungs and brain to cease functioning. If attempts are made to reverse this process, it is referred to as ‘cardiac arrest’; however, if these attempts do not succeed it is called ‘death’. In this study we wanted to go beyond the emotionally charged yet poorly defined term of NDEs to explore objectively what happens when we die.”
“I was up there, looking down at me, the nurse, and another man who had a bald head…I couldn’t see his face but I could see the back of his body. He was quite a chunky fella… He had blue scrubs on, and he had a blue hat, but I could tell he didn’t have any hair, because of where the hat was,“ one cardiac arrest patient recalled.
Study notes confirmed that : “Medical record review confirmed the…the medical team present during the cardiac arrest and the role the identified “man” played in responding to the cardiac arrest.”
Parnia recollected another significant case. the patient is quoted: “At the beginning, I think, I heard the nurse say ‘dial 444 cardiac arrest,” and reported hearing machine beeps at three-minute intervals.
“In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat,” Parnia said.
“This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted. Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events.”
The University of Southampton, UK, who sponsored the study, draws some significant conclusions on its website:
• The themes relating to the experience of death appear far broader than what has been understood so far, or what has been described as so called near-death experiences.
• In some cases of cardiac arrest, memories of visual awareness compatible with so called out-of-body experiences may correspond with actual events.
• A higher proportion of people may have vivid death experiences, but do not recall them due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory circuits.
• Widely used yet scientifically imprecise terms such as near-death and out-of-body experiences may not be sufficient to describe the actual experience of death. Future studies should focus on cardiac arrest, which is biologically synonymous with death, rather than ill-defined medical states sometimes referred to as ‘near-death’.
• The recalled experience surrounding death merits a genuine investigation without prejudice.