Near Death Experience (NDE) Watch: Waiting for Dr. Sam Parnia

Late last year, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece on near death experiences (NDEs), and it included an aspect on the phenomenon that I’d never heard of before: near death awareness:

In his book, “Visions, Trips and Crowds,” David Kessler, a veteran writer on grief and dying, reports that hospice patients frequently describe being visited by a deceased relative or having an out-of-body experience weeks before they actually die, a phenomenon called “near-death awareness.” While some skeptics dismiss such reports as hallucinations or wishful thinking, hospice workers generally report that the patients are otherwise perfectly lucid—and invariably less afraid of death afterward.

Mr. Kessler says his own father was hopeless and very sad as he was dying. “One day, he had an amazing shift and said, ‘Your mother was here—she told me I’d be dying soon and it will be fine—everyone will be there.”

The article also said that a researcher, Dr. Sam Parnia, hoped to be reporting “next year” on some interesting near death research:

At 18 hospitals in the U.S. and U.K., researchers have suspended pictures, face up, from the ceilings in emergency-care areas. The reason: to test whether patients brought back to life after cardiac arrest can recall seeing the images during an out-of-body experience.

People who have these near-death experiences often describe leaving their bodies and watching themselves being resuscitated from above, but verifying such accounts is difficult. The images would be visible only to people who had done that.

“We’ve added these images as objective markers,” says Sam Parnia, a critical-care physician and lead investigator of the study, which hopes to include 1,500 resuscitated patients. Dr. Parnia declined to say whether any have accurately described the images so far, but says he hopes to report preliminary results next year.

The study, coordinated by Southampton University’s School of Medicine in England, is one of the latest and largest scientific efforts to understand the mystery of near-death experiences. . . .

Dr. Parnia, currently an assistant professor of critical care at State University of New York, Stony Brook, says verifying out-of-body experiences with pictures on the ceiling is only a small part of his study. He is also hoping to better understand whether consciousness exists apart from the brain and what happens to it when the brain shuts down. In near-death experiences, people report vivid memories, feelings and thought processes even when there is no measurable brain activity.

That last sentence in the reporter’s story is a bit ill-formed logically. (How can people know, exactly, at what moment their vivid experiences occurred? Maybe they occurred before measurable brain activity ceased.)

Still, the doctor’s study—should it be published this year—is something to watch for.

And while we’re waiting for Dr. Sam Parnia, here’s my all-time favorite account of a near death experience (that of Pam Reynolds):

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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21 Responses to Near Death Experience (NDE) Watch: Waiting for Dr. Sam Parnia

  1. Cool. An afterlife would be great .. I am not counting on it though.

    I wonder, does anyone track how many people were clinically dead and then brought back, but report seeing nothing?

  2. David says:

    You know, I heard about this myself when I did a hospice rotation as part of nursing school. From how the nurses were speaking of it, patients being observed speaking with deceased relatives was a pretty common phenomenon. Looking forward to this study being published as well!

  3. nanbush says:

    “Nearing death awareness” was first described in 1992 by hospice nurses Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley in their book Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communication of the Dying. It is a fascinating book, highly recommended for both health care people who work with the dying and–especially–for families with a dying loved one. It is published now by Bantam and has become a classic with hospices.

  4. Me says:

    When my father passed, it almost seemed as if he had one foot in my reality and another one some where else. He too, told me early on my mom visited him and that he jeasus was starring at him in the corner.. lol The odd thing was, he was agnostic.. As sad as the experience was, it was definately an eye opening one. Speaking with the hospice people really reassured me that what I witnessed, they witness daily from different patients. coincidence? Maybe. Is it the light and tunnel the dying mind? Well let me ask you this.. Is it coincidental that everyone has such similar experiences, I mean do 2 heart attack patients have the same symptom prior to going into cardiac arrest? Strange.. My father always use to say, it’s not that he didn’t believe in God, he just wanted someone to prove it. At the end, he said “we are all God’s children”.. Come up with your own conclusion.

  5. Pat says:

    When my father was dying. He had COAD and was fixed with a breathing mask. On the day of his death, he suddenly sat up in his hospital bed, took off his mask and asked me what he should do. Strange that he appeared to have a choice?

  6. ankit says:

    no no no according to recent science expirement and discoveries they have proven there is no life after death and no such nonsense things like afterlife

    • Anonymous says:

      How do you know that, you can not even spell or put a sentence together.

      • Bobby Jean says:

        1. English is apparently a second language not fully mastered. Just curious, but how many do you speak and write?

        2. Possibly the greatest disservice one can do to oneself and to others is disregard an idea or belief simply because it is not perfectly communicated.

    • And what recent science experiment and discoveries would that be? Furthermore, how can anybody prove there is no life after death? Go on smart ass, answer me that

    • And another think ankit, if there is an afterlife, i’m going to seek you out and laugh at you ha ha ha!

    • Bobby Jean says:

      1. Laws of physics state energy cannot be destroyed.
      2. Our bodies function via energy ..electrical signals along brain synapses.
      Question: What happens to that energy when our fragile bodies cease to function?

  7. Travis says:

    Ankit, what recent scientific studies? “No such nonsense” let’s everyone know you were closed minded to the idea, and therefore, unscientific. The religion you follow is called “sciencism” – Look it up. Science is about unbiased experimental results, not having a decision of the outcome prior, and then designing experiments to suit your belief system.

  8. JD Jackson says:

    The last sentence may seem illogical, but if you read Dr. Parnia’s book, What Happens When We Die, you’ll find that people occasionally report that they saw things happening during an operation, after they were clinically dead (no brain activity, no heartbeat, no blood circulation, oxygen going to brain), such as seeing doctors putting instruments in a certain place which they couldn’t/shouldn’t have known about, or seeing medical staff trip over something, various things like that. They were all only personal anecdotes from patients or things colleagues had experienced though, it wasn’t fully scientific.

  9. Bron says:

    Its chilling to think the brain or conscience always ticks. Particularly if neaurologicallyand everyway possible you are dead no heart beat etc. Can only wish ther is hope out ther for peace. Wether it b a complete shut down. (no thoughts or vissions or torture) or a pleasant encounter in another place.

  10. It would be a comfort, for me, to believe in a second chance at life, to get it right next time; however, I find all this to be the stuff of human imagination rather than the startling and truly other-worldly revelations of a divine experience. I Bet that none of the subjects in Dr. Parnia’s experiment accurately describe the images hidden below the ceiling. Also, bets that pure old physiology of brain cell activity, which in itself has been demonstrated to be most remarkable, will account for these curious phenomena.

  11. Anonymous says:

    There is a theory called non-local reality that may explain outer body experiences. Local reality is consciousness which occurs in the body and is the product of brain activity. Non-local reality would be some aspect of consciousness that appears to be operating outside of the body. Based on one of the doctors ideas, non-local reality could be caused by these microscopic tubules in the brain. That is an interesting theory.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Because many persons don’t have any awareness of this concept of non-local reality, it is highly probable that NDE experiencers mislabel their outer body experience as a kind of spiritual or afterlife experience. After the experience, there would also be a strong propensity to try and understand their experience, and understand what happened to them. A person’s understanding is always based on their acquired knowledge and experience of the world. It is not surprising really to see that many NDE’ers interpret their experience as a spiritual one. Without clearly defined alternative explanations, a person is left only with their beliefs about what happened. And spiritual beliefs are often the chosen explanation precisely because beliefs can exist, and exist very strongly, in the absence of any hard scientific or objective evidence.

  13. John J Johnson says:

    My conclusion is that NDE’s are a legitimate phenomenon but exactly what they are is still unknown. They are assumed to be many things, a spiritual experience, an outer body experience, an altered stated of consciousness, a glimpse of the afterlife, etc. But we in fact don’t have sufficient hard evidence yet to say for sure what they are. Every so called mystery is just a phenomenon that is yet to be explained. As with past mysteries, science is the most likely candidate to unravel and shed further light on NDE’s. Do I think NDE’s give legitimacy to religion, spirituality, or the afterlife? Hardly. In the end, each report is based on a subjective experience by one individual and so far we have not been able to generalize the NDE experience to all persons. The fact that only a small percentage of persons who are near death actually have an NDE and can recall it is an astute observation. Why do some persons have NDE’s but most do not? Is this the result of different brain functioning, different beliefs about death, different beliefs about God? There are many as yet unidentified variables that could predict who does or does not have an NDE. The transformative quality of an NDE experience is remarkable and at times shocking. Some people have totally transformed their lives after having an NDE, usually in the direction of creating a life with greater purpose, being more loving, and being more at peace with themselves. It is interesting to note that the fear of dying totally leaves them after an NDE experience. I would attribute this to their belief that they have seen the other side, the afterlife, and that “fear of the unknown” no longer has power over their mind.

  14. Bobby Jean says:

    Family has had such experiences for generations. When my grandmother was near death, her daughters held a vigil at our home. Each of us had the same dream, with Grandma and a young woman giving us images of twos. Awakening simultaneously, we arrived in Grandma’s room and began searching. Found duplicate medications ..2 different names, same med. Rushed her back to hospital where she was revived. Upon awakening she told us “took you long enough.”

    Grandma confirmed the young woman that accompanied her was my daughter, who had died years earlier. As an infant. I never even had a chance to hold her. Much later, I would have another daughter, and she is the image of the young woman seen in that dream.

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