7 October 2014
Near-death experiences: new study finds evidence to back anecdotal claims
by Will Parker
A four-year international study of 2,060 cardiac arrest cases in 15 hospitals in the United Kingdom, United States, and Austria has concluded that in some cases of cardiac arrest, so called out-of-body experiences may correspond with actual events.
The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study, published in the journal Resuscitation, also tested the validity of conscious experiences using objective markers for the first time in a large study to determine whether claims of awareness compatible with out-of-body experiences correspond with real or hallucinatory events.
Recollections in relation to death, out-of-body experiences (OBEs) or near-death experiences (NDEs), are an often spoken about phenomenon which have frequently been considered hallucinatory or illusory in nature; however, investigation of these experiences in the past has been minimal.
"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. 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," explained Dr Sam Parnia, Director of Resuscitation Research at The State University of New York and the study's lead author.
The study found that 39 percent of patients who survived cardiac arrest and were able to undergo structured interviews described a perception of awareness, but interestingly, did not have any explicit recall of events. "This suggests more people may have mental activity initially but then lose their memories after recovery, either due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory recall," said Parnia.
Among those who reported a perception of awareness and completed further interviews, 46 percent experienced a broad range of mental recollections in relation to death that were not compatible with the commonly used term of NDE's. These included fearful and persecutory experiences.
Only 9 percent had experiences compatible with NDEs and 2 percent exhibited full awareness compatible with OBE's with explicit recall of "seeing" and "hearing" events.
Parnia said that one case was validated and timed using auditory stimuli during cardiac arrest. "This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with 'real' events when the heart isn't beating."
"In this case," he continued, "consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat. 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."
"Thus, while it was not possible to absolutely prove the reality or meaning of patients' experiences and claims of awareness, due to the very low incidence [2 percent] of explicit recall of visual awareness or so called OBEs, it was impossible to disclaim them either and more work is needed in this area," he concluded.
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