near death experience
October 8, 2014

New Study Scientifically Probes Near-Death, Out-Of-Body Experiences

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Approximately one-tenth of all cardiac arrest survivors reported having out-of-body experiences (OBEs) or near-death experiences (NDEs), according to the results of a new study investigating the phenomenon of recollections associated with death.

The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study, which involved over 2,000 patients from 15 hospitals in the US, the UK and Austria, examined the broad range of mental experiences related to death. The researchers also set out to test the validity of conscious experiences by using objective markers for the first time in a study of this size to determine whether or not claims of awareness compatible with these experiences were real or hallucinations.

Writing in a recent edition of Resuscitation, the official journal of the European Resuscitation Council, lead author Dr. Sam Parnia of the Stony Brook Medical Center at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and his colleagues found that 39 percent of all patients who survived cardiac arrest and were able to undergo structured interviews were able to describe a perception of awareness, but were unable to explicitly recall any specific events.

The study also concluded that themes linked to the experience of death appeared to be far broader than previously understood or described; that in some instances patients had memories of visual awareness compatible with so-called out-of-body experiences which may correspond with actual events following their cardiac event; and that a higher proportion of people may simply not remember vivid death experiences due to a variety of reasons.

Furthermore, Dr. Parnia and his fellow researchers reported that the widely used terms such as near-death experiences and out-of-body experiences are scientifically imprecise and might not be adequate to describe the actual experiences associated with death. Future studies should focus on cardiac arrest, which is biologically synonymous with death, rather than what they call poorly-defined medical states sometimes referred to as “near-death.”

“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,” Dr. Parnia said in a statement. “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,” he continued, adding that the 39 percent of cardiac survivors who claimed to be aware of post-incident awareness without explicit recall “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.”

Out of a total of 2,060 cardiac arrest events, 140 survivors were able to complete stage 1 interviews and 101 were able to complete stage 2 interviews, the authors wrote. Of those individuals, 46 percent experienced a broad range of mental recollections associated with death but not exactly compatible with the common use of the term NDE.

Those recollections fit into seven primary cognitive themes, including: fear; family; animals and/or plants; bright light; violence and/or persecution; and a feeling of deja-vu. In addition, 2 percent described awareness with explicit recall of ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ actual events related to their resuscitation, and one had a verifiable period of conscious awareness during a period in which it was believed that they would not be having any cerebral function.

That case was validated and timed using auditory stimuli during cardiac arrest, and according to Dr. Parnia, the event was “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, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat,” he continued. “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 OBE’s), it was impossible to disclaim them either and more work is needed in this area,” the lead author concluded. “Clearly, the recalled experience surrounding death now merits further genuine investigation without prejudice.”

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