Covering Near-Death Experiences: Overview

by | May 19, 2024 | Consciousness, Near-Death Experiences (NDE), Overview, Topic Briefs for Journalists | 0 comments

This is part of FJN’s Topic Briefs for Journalists series.
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Dr Raymond Moody made one of the most interesting, controversial and important observations of the 20th century in his 1973 book, “Life After Life“, he observed that ‘consciousness’ sometimes seemed to persist while a patient was supposedly unconscious during a heart attack. It was this concept that stimulated the field of near-death research — and also raised questions about the generally accepted reductionist view of science (consciousness is created by the brain and limited to the brain).

Such experiences have been documented since antiquity. Pliny The Elder wrote of them. For millennia, it seems that such experiences were occurring, but that most patients were reluctant to talk about them for fear of ridicule. They’ve probably become more common as cardiac care has improved, bringing more patients ‘back to life’.

Most subsequent studies have been retrospective, questioning people and examining their medical records a while after their experience.  Michael Sabom (Sabom, 1982) examined patients who had been in a variety of near-death circumstances, such as severe traumatic injury or comas as well as cardiac arrests.  Some claimed to have seen their own resuscitation procedures while unconscious. Correlating their accounts with the medical records, Sabom found that the evidence did point towards the experience having occurred during unconsciousness.

The term “Near-Death Experience (NDE)” has come to refer to a wide range of experiences: those occurring during a true cardiac arrest, when the patient may actually be medically, though temporarily, dead; those in which they have been literally near death by an accident or illness; those which result from extreme fear – the so-called “Fear-Death Experiences (FDE)”; and those which are part of a transcendent continuum in which death is not involved. 

To clarify the terminology, palliative care physician Dr Sam Parnia has suggested that the term Actual-Death Experience (ADE) should be used for those experiences occurring during cardiac arrest when the person would have died had they not been resuscitated (Parnia et al., 2001)

Near-Death Experiences

Studies in the USA and Germany indicate that 4.2% of the population have had an NDE and that more than 25 million people worldwide have had one in the last 50 years (van Lommel, 2011). Since 1997, an entire journal has been devoted to their study, the Journal of Near-Death Studies.

Features of NDEs and ADEs

The features of these experiences vary, but the most common are:

  • ineffability
  • timelessness
  • awareness of being dead
  • Out-of-Body (OOO) experience, including observing resuscitation attempts as if from above
  • being drawn through a tunnel towards a light
  • meeting other human spirits, often deceased relatives
  • meeting a ‘being of light’, with a powerful sense of love
  • often in a beautiful garden
  • a life review
  • a feeling of peace, happiness, and a sense of harmony or unity with the universe
  • awareness of a boundary beyond which they cannot go, or from beyond which they could not return
  • a feeling of being pulled back to the body because it is not their time to go
  • sadness at having to leave something so beautiful to return to the earthly plane

There can be no evidence clearer than the personal testament of someone who has died. Thanks to the success of medical interventions following cardiac arrest, many people do return from something that would have been classified as “dead” 50 years ago; that is a state in which the brain has ceased to function, the heart has stopped and the person is (for all intents and purposes) actually dead. And some report experiences (ADEs), which suggest the existence of another state of consciousness, unavailable in our everyday world. Accounts are available in many publications (see below) and via the researchers and writers collecting them.

Here is a selection of quotes from people who have had ADEs:

  • “All the pain that I had been in, mental and physical,  ceased. It evaporated with a bursting release”.
  • “I heard  the midwife saying that I think we’ve lost her. I said no, I’m OK and opened my eyes and found that someone had moved the ceiling – because it was now just above my face”.
  • “I found myself in space and knew I had another kind of body – because I could see up and down”.
  • “I saw one of the nurses run around the screen. I could see over the top of the screen which I couldn’t have done for my body. She was dialling from a telephone on the wall”.
  • “Then a wonderful feeling of clarity. I seemed to know everything. I floated through the ceiling. My feeling was that there was a huge black tunnel in front of me”.
  • “The next thing I knew I was in this very dark tunnel … There was a light at the end of it and I said to myself, my God I’m dea”d.
  • “Then I began to perceive this tremendously bright light  and something in me “knew you can’t go blind. So I went into this light”.
  • “The was this wonderful overwhelming feeling of peace and love. Can’t describe it. As you got nearer, this feeling of love and peace just enveloped you and you don’t want to leave it”.
  • “From that light came a voice. Hello Jill, you know who I am. And my instant reaction was good heavens, I’m speaking to God”.
  • “It was someone, and I can remember rushing into his arms with a cry of joy in my heart, an instant recognition”.
  • “As I was coming away from the tunnel I saw my life, bits of my life spread out like a painting and I could identify things and I could see myself in that life”.
  • “At that point a voice came saying that I must go back and I said no, I’m not going back, not all that pain and started arguing about it and he said have you  thought about your baby and I had forgotten my baby and thought yes I must go back. At the decision, everything went black”.
  • “And then suddenly I was back in my body and I was in terrible physical pain again”.

Compiled by Martin Redfern for FJN

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