World’s largest clinical study of the human mind and consciousness at the time of death shows evidence of Near Death Experience
A four-year international study of 2060 cardiac arrest cases across 15
hospitals looks at the possibility of awareness during resuscitation –
so called Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) and Out of Body Experiences (OBEs)
– has produced a number of interesting findings which the researchers
say deserves further ‘genuine investigation without prejudice’.
Some of the study’s findings include:
- 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’.
Recollections in relation to death, socalled
out-of-body experiences or neardeath
experiences, are an often spoken
about phenomenon which have frequently
been considered hallucinatory or illusory
in nature; however, objective studies on
these experiences are limited.
In 2008, a large-scale study involving
2060 patients from 15 hospitals in the
United Kingdom, United States and Austria
was launched. The AWARE (AWAreness
during REsuscitation) study, sponsored
by the University of Southampton
in the UK, examined the broad range of
mental experiences in relation to death.
Researchers 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.
Results of the study were published in
December 2014 in the journal Resuscitation
and are available online.
Dr Sam Parnia, Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Director of Resuscitation Research at
The State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA, and the
study’s lead author, explained: “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.”
Thirty-nine per cent 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,” explained Dr
Parnia, who was an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of
Southampton when he started the AWARE study.
Among those who reported a perception of awareness and completed
further interviews, 46% 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% had experiences compatible with NDEs
and 2% exhibited full awareness compatible with OBE’s with explicit
recall of ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ events.
One case was validated and timed using auditory stimuli during cardiac
arrest. Dr Parnia concluded: “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,
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%] 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. Clearly, the recalled experience surrounding
death now merits further genuine investigation without prejudice.”
The researchers add that further studies are also needed to explore
whether awareness (explicit or implicit) may lead to long
term adverse psychological outcomes including post-traumatic
Parnia S, et al. AWARE – AWAreness during Resuscitation – A prospective
study. Resuscitation (Vol 85 issue 12) December 2014.
of upload: 10th Jan 2015