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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Near Death Experiences, Part II

You know, my father was a doctor and a studiously rational person.

Despite this, he appears to have had an NDE and to have accepted its occurence with nary a blink. Furthermore, during his last few months of life, there were all manner of ghosts and dead bodies and peculiar things going on, including his sudden acquisition of enough Spanish that some of the nurses assumed it was his first language.

It could be argued that my father was just an old hillbilly and old time doctor, meaning he was never really assimilated into the modern medical model. Possible, I suppose. Then again, you can't spend your life working in a particular culture without at the very least becoming somewhat assimilated into it.

Furthermore, my sister is a nurse and almost worse than my father when it comes to rationalism. Yet she had an NDE, as well.

In honor of them, tonight's report on NDEs comes from a search on Medscape. It's too late at night for me to say a lot about it. Besides, I kind of don't want to do any analysis yet. I just want to see what's out there.

First, from The Lancet, December 15, 2001 (Volume 358, Number 9298):

Near-Death Experience in Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in The Netherlands

The researchers included 334 consecutive patients who were successfully resuscitated in coronary care units in 10 Dutch hospitals during a period of up to 4 years. Near-death experiences were defined as "the reported memory of all impressions during a special state of consciousness, including specific elements such as out-of-body experience, pleasant feelings, and seeing a tunnel, a light, deceased relatives or a life review" (p. 2040). A standardized interview was conducted with survivors within a few days of resuscitation. Data collected on all participants included cause and duration of cardiac arrest, whether arrest occurred in hospital or out, drugs used during the arrest, as well as demographic information including education and religion. A weighted core experience index was used that scored elements of the experience on intensity. Patients were classified as having had no near-death experience, a superficial experience, a core experience, or a deep experience.


Of 509 resuscitations, 12% resulted in near-death experiences, with 8% classified as core experiences. This number is substantially lower than that seen in previous studies and may have been due to the fact that the prospective design prevented self-selection; this lower incidence is despite employing a wide definition. No patients reported a frightening or distressing near-death experience. No medical, pharmacologic, or psychological factors were found to affect the likelihood or depth of the near-death experience. Age did appear to be a factor, with younger patients significantly more likely to report an experience; this confirms findings in other studies and may in part be accounted for by the fact that younger patients are more likely to survive a resuscitation. Women were more likely to experience a deep near-death experience. Mortality shortly after the cardiac arrest was higher in patients who had had a near-death experience; 21% of patients who had had a near-death experience died shortly after the event compared with 9% of patients who had not had a near-death experience; this difference was more marked in patients who reported a deep experience (42% vs 9%).


There were significant differences at 2 years between the near-death experience and control groups. People who had had a near-death experience were significantly more likely to report belief in an afterlife and a decrease in fear of death. These people reported heightened social attitudes, including a reported change in ability to accept and understand others, greater involvement in family, greater empathy, and ability to share their feelings. They also reported that they better understood the purpose of life and sensed an inner meaning to life.

At the 8-year follow up, patients were still able to recall their near-death experiences almost exactly. All patients in both the near-death experience and control groups reported having gone through a positive change and described themselves as more self-assured, socially aware, and religious. However, patients who had not had an experience were less likely to have an interest in spirituality and to report a belief in an afterlife. The near-death experience patients, as a group, continued to strongly believe in an afterlife and did not demonstrate any fear of death.

A surprising and unexpected finding was the long lasting transformational processes that occurred in these individuals after the near-death experience. This result may be delayed for several years; the authors speculated that these individuals may deny or suppress their experience for fear of rejection or ridicule, which results in delayed after-effects.

In this study, psychological, neurophysiologic, or physiologic factors were not found to account for the occurrence of a near-death experience; although all patients in this study had been clinically dead, most did not report a near-death experience. While some studies have induced similar experiences through electoral stimulation of the temporal lobe, individuals who participate in this research report fragmented and random memories unlike the panoramic life-review that can occur in near-death experiences. Rarely are these induced experiences associated with life changing transformational effects.


At 4:20 AM, Blogger MJ said...

What are you looking for with your NDE series? You got me thinking about other NDE's (not the same, but similar) like childbirth. Maybe I'll write about that. Interesting how the culture teaches us that childbirth is a sickness (hospitals, tests, drugs for pain) and we are robbed of the experience, probably because it is empowering. Interesting that you are planting seeds and talking about death. Seems right.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Cookie said...

I'm just curious.

Well, actually, I kind of have a death obsession but I don't really want to broadcast that fact.

I have enough of a death obsession that I've seriously considered going into hospice work.

It honestly doesn't bother me the way it does everyone else. I honestly don't quite believe death exists and I never have -- it's one of my more peculiar quirks. I mean, I get terribly sad when some I love dies and I'm very bothered by the thought of someone being in pain. But I don't quite believe in death the way everyone else does, which may or may not be a good thing.

So --- and this might be kind of neurotic, I don't know --- I have a fascination with death kind of the same way I have a fascination with growing rosemary or something.

I'm just really interested, that's all.

At 7:36 AM, Blogger Cookie said...

And BTW, yea, childbirth and death --- yea! There's a metaphor for you! I'd love it if you wrote about it!


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