What is a Near Death Experience?

Article ID: DD282-1 | By: Michael Sabom

The following is an excerpt from article DD282-1 of the Christian Research Journal. The full article can be read by following the link below the excerpt.


THE NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE: What is a Near Death Experience?

Five studies typify the scientific research examining NDEs: (1) psychologist Kenneth Ring’s 1980 report of 102 persons (49 near-death experiencers [NDErs]);14 (2) my 1982 report of 116 persons (71 NDErs);15 (3) my 1998 report of 160 persons (47 NDErs);16 (4) Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel’s 2001 report of 344 persons (62 NDErs);17 and (5) British cardiologist Sam Parnia’s 2001 report of 63 persons (4 NDErs).18 Near-death crisis events (NDCEs) included serious illnesses, accidents, or suicide attempts, with cardiac arrest the most common diagnosis.

In my first study, I defined an NDE as any definite “recollection from the period of unconsciousness” associated with physical near-death. The NDE was more stringently defined in the later studies using two strongly correlated scoring systems.19 NDEs were reported by 39 to 43 percent of near-death survivors in the earlier studies, and by 6 to 18 percent in later studies. These variations were most likely due to differences in research methods, subject selection, and definition of NDE. NDE content was remarkably consistent in each study and corresponded to one or more elements in Moody’s classic prototype reported in Life after Life.20 These elements appeared in three patterns: autoscopic (i.e., a self-visualizing, out-of-body experience [OBE]), transcendental (entering a dark region, seeing a light, etc.), and combined (autoscopic followed by transcendental). Standardized NDE scales were used to assess the “depth” of the experience.21

The report of an NDE is not related to a person’s gender, race, education, occupation, previous knowledge of these experiences, type of NDCE, method of resuscitation, or interval between the NDCE and the interview. (Religious variables will be discussed in part two of this series.) Older subjects recovering from lengthy resuscitations report fewer NDEs, apparently due to a greater loss of short-term memory following NDCEs in this age group.22

Compared to those near-death survivors who did not have an NDE, NDErs report a significantly greater reduction in their fear of death following a NDCE,23 and a significantly greater increase in their sense of meaning in life, search for personal meaning, desire to help others, compassion and tolerance for others, ability to listen to and to express love for others, understanding and acceptance of others, and involvement in family life.24

THE AUTOSCOPIC NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE: FACT OR FANTASY?

In my first study, 32 subjects described an autoscopic OBE.25 Twenty-six gave broad “visual” impressions of their resuscitation that lacked sufficient detail for analysis. Six persons claimed to have “seen” specific resuscitative details during their OBEs, including, (1) the placement of an oxygen mask (“They had oxygen on me before, one of those little nose tubes, and they took that off and put on a face mask which covers your mouth and nose.”); (2) a chest thump followed by external cardiac massage and insertion of airway (“He hit me right in the center of my chest. And then they were pushing on my chest…kinda like artificial respiration. They shoved a plastic tube, like you put in an oil can, they shoved that in my mouth.”); (3) defibrillator paddles (“Well, they weren’t paddles….They were round discs with handles on them.”); (4) lubrication of the paddles (“They put something on those pads like a lubricant.”); (5) positioning of the paddles (“They put one up here…and they put one down here.”); (6) charging the defibrillator (“I think they moved the fixed needle and it stayed still while the other one moved up.”); (7) defibrillation (“I thought they had given my body too much voltage. Man, my body jumped about two feet off the table.”); (8) injection of intracardiac medications (“They put a needle in me and…shoved it into my chest like that.”); (9) checking for pupillary response and carotid pulse (“They were pulling my eyelids up to look to see where my eyes were, I guess.…Then they were feeling around my neck where the pulse is.”); (10) insertion of a subclavian vein catheter (“Dr. B came up and decided to put one in my left — well, not in my armpit, but on my side.”); and (11) drawing arterial blood gases from the femoral artery (“shots first in the groin down there somewhere”) and radial artery (“the little needle they were putting in my hand. Something about the blood gases.”).

When compared to medical records and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) protocol, these reports turned out to be surprisingly accurate. It is unlikely that visual details of the objects and events reported in these NDEs would have been either discussed by others present during the resuscitation or observed by the deeply arrested patient.