Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

221,365 subscribers and counting ...

Largest-yet study describes near-death experiences

Tunnels ending in light, your life flashing before you, out-of-body sensations. Near-death experiences merit further study without prejudice, these researchers say.

Recollections in relation to death, so-called out-of-body experiences (OBEs) or near-death experiences (NDEs), are a phenomenon which have frequently been considered hallucinatory or illusory in nature.

But the results of a four-year international study of 2060 cardiac arrest cases across 15 hospitals concludes that the themes relating to the experience of death appear far broader than what has been understood so far.

Dr. Sam Parnia, Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Director of Resuscitation Research at The State University of New York at Stony Brook is the study’s lead author. He said:

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 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.

Results of the study have been published in the journal Resuscitation.

The study concludes:

• 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.

Bottom line: A new international study suggests that so-called “near death experience” – tunnels ending in light, your life flashing before you, out-of-body experience – might be a very real phenomenon.

Read more from the University of Southhampton

Eleanor Imster

MORE ARTICLES