Life After Death?

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Think about the last time you saw a death scene in a movie. They often involve the dying person talking, slowly and painfully, trying to divulge a secret, or give a pep talk. Then they close their eyes and go limp. In reality, death is less black and white. For example, doctors used to think that with cardiac arrest, when the heartbeat stopped, the brain had 20-30 seconds before it ceased functioning.  A recent study published in Resuscitation reports that people in cardiac arrest could remain aware for longer than we thought. It suggests there is life after death…sort of.

The study reported that out of 2,000 cases of cardiac arrest where the patient required resuscitation, 360 patients had some sort of awareness even though experts would have declared them clinically dead. What the patients reported are often called near death experiences. Many reported seeing images. One saw plants but no flowers. Another reported going toward a bright light to a city made of crystal with crystal clear river flowing through it. Some reported seeing friends and relatives, animals, bright lights. Patients felt persecution, fear, or euphoria. Many recalled events that occurred after or during resuscitation. In one instance a person described in detail a specialist involved in her resuscitation. She saw him from the ceiling as she looked down on her own treatment. She could tell he had no hair by the way he wore his hat. One man reported hearing two beeps from a machine that is known to go off every three minutes. It indicated he had held on for at least three minutes after loosing his heartbeat.

The study forces us once again to confront how little we know about the brain, and death. For now, it shows there is life after death, at least life after what we thought was death. The study is important to me since I am writing a science fiction novel where some characters have a rare gene that sends them into suspended animation instead of death. I am worried about suspending my readers’ disbelief. Maybe a few more studies like this will make my job easier.


AWARE—AWAreness during REsuscitation—A prospective study

Parnia, Sam;  Spearpoint, Ken;  de Vos, Gabriele;  Fenwick, Peter;  Goldberg, Diana et al. (2014)

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