University of Southampton researchers have completed the largest ever medical study of near-death experiences (NDEs) and out-of-body experiences (OBEs). From a four-year study of more than 2,000 people at 15 hospitals throughout the United Kingdom, United States, and Austria who “died” from cardiac arrests and were resuscitated, they found that nearly 40 percent of people experienced some sort of “awareness” during the time they were clinically dead and before they were revived. The study is groundbreaking in that it disproves the suggestion that such events are hallucinations or illusions occurring while the person is technically “alive”.
State University of New York professor Dr. Sam Parnia, emphasized that “we know the brain can’t function when the heart stops beating”. However, despite being dead for several minutes with no heart or brain activity, a 57-year-old man recalled leaving his body entirely and watching his resuscitation from the corner of the room. The man recounted, in detail, the workings of the machinery in the room as well as the actions of the nursing staff and doctors as they worked to bring him back.
“In this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped. The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for. He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened.”
This particular instance was important because it provided an objective measurement of the NDE event. Prior to this, it was suggested by some that experiences in relation to death are hallucinations or illusions or that they occurred shortly before dying or after resuscitation. The events surrounding the 57-year-old patient provided concrete evidence that the near-death experience occurred well into the “death phase” and that the events the man experienced were real.
The experiences described by the survivors varied but most carried a common theme. Twenty percent of the subjects described a sense of peacefulness and over thirty percent described entering a period where time was altered or irrelevant (i.e. it slowed or accelerated). Over 1 in 10 described being separated from their bodies and entering a state of heightened awareness. Many described seeing a bright light or “golden flash” and a feeling of deja-vu or vivid recall of past life events.
Others however, described experiences that were much less pleasant. Fearful and violent feelings or a sense of being persecuted were common themes. Some recounted feelings of suffocation or drowning while others recalled being dragged through a sea of deep fluid.
The AWARE (Awareness during Resuscitation) study began in 2008 and was completed in 2014. The study was important because for the first time, the validity of the experiences was tested using objective markers to determine whether claims of awareness were real or hallucinatory events. The research found that a high proportion of people have vivid death experiences. The study also suggested that use of sedatives or other drugs during the medical event may cause memories of the events to begin to fade quickly in many people.
“We just don’t know what is going on. We are still very much in the dark about what happens when you die and hopefully this study will help shine a scientific lens onto that.”