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6. Near Death Experiences (NDEs)
“There seems little doubt that NDEs
occur in all cultures and have occurred at all times through
recorded history... the NDE happens to young and old, to
people from all walks of life, to those whose life has a
spiritual dimension and to those who profess no faith at
all... there are many examples of people who have a NDE
at a time when they did not even know that such a phenomenon
Dr Peter Fenwick
The Near Death Experience (NDE) is a powerful argument
for the existence of the afterlife which because of recent
advances in medical science is becoming widely reported.
As medical resuscitation techniques are being improved more
and more people are being brought back from the border of
clinical death. A number of them recount an intense profoundly
meaningful experience in which they seem to be alive and
functioning outside their body. For many, a Near Death Experience
is an extremely powerful emotional and spiritual experience.
The evidence for the NDE is consistent, overwhelming and
experienced by the many. It is also consistent with evidence
for other psychic phenomena—OBEs, with the information
obtained from mental and physical mediums, and with apparitions.
The more informed closed-minded skeptics now acknowledge
that there is no dispute at all about the existence of the
NDE. The dispute is about what it means.
Psychics say that in a crisis situation, where death is
almost inevitable or is perceived to be inevitable, the
duplicate physical body, the astral or etheric body, sometimes
leaves the physical body and experiences the first stages
of the afterlife. When death does not occur, the duplicate
body resumes its place in the physical body. Studies have
shown that NDEs occurred following illness, surgery, childbirth,
accident, heart attack and attempted suicide.
Skeptics say that there is no such thing as a duplicate
body and whatever one experiences has to do with the problems
of the physical body itself?it's all in the mind.
One pioneer in this area was Dr Raymond Moody Jr., who
began his work as a skeptic. His first book Life After Life
in 1975 is considered the classic work which opened this
area to modern research was followed by two others in 1983
Since 1975 there have been many studies in many countries—so
much so that there are now several international associations
and journals for the investigation of near-death studies.
Cherie Sutherland's excellent Australian book (1992) contains
a selected bibliography of over 150 scholarly research reports.
Fifteen common elements
Moody found a striking similarity in accounts of 150 people
who had these experiences—so much so that he was able
to identify fifteen different elements which recur again
and again in these reports. He constructed a typical experience
which contains all of these elements:
A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest
physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by
his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise,
a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels
himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel.
After this he finds himself outside of his own physical
body, but still in the immediate physical environment,
and he sees his own body from a distance, as though he
is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from
this unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional
After a while he collects himself and becomes more accustomed
to his odd condition. He notices that he still has a 'body',
but one of a very different nature and with very different
powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon
other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and
help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends
who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a
kind he has never encountered before—a being of
light—appears before him. This being asks him a
question, nonverbal, to make him evaluate his life and
helps him along by showing him a panoramic instantaneous
playback of the major events of his life. At some point
he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border,
apparently representing the limit between earthly life
and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go back
to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet
come. At this point he resists, for by now he is taken
up with his experiences in the afterlife and does not
want to return. He is overwhelmed by intense feelings
of joy, love, and peace. Despite his attitude, though,
he somehow reunites with his physical body and lives.
Later he tries to tell others, but he has trouble doing
so. In the first place, he can find no human words adequate
to describe these unearthly experiences. He also finds
that others scoff, so he stops telling other people. Still
the experience affects his life profoundly, especially
his view about death and its relationship to life (Moody
Dr Kenneth Ring, who produced a scientific study of Near-Death
Experiences in 1980, confirmed Dr Moody's findings but found
that people went through the experience in stages and a
large number of people experienced only the first ones.
Other studies by Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson (1977),
Michael Sabom and Sarah Kreutziger (1976), Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
(1983), Craig Lundahl (1981) and Bruce Greyson and Ian Stevenson
(1980) all described a similar set of experiences.
Seeing while unconscious
Dr Michael Sabom, a Georgia cardiologist, interviewed 100
hospital patients who had narrowly escaped death. Of these
61 per cent reported experiencing classical NDE of the type
closely corresponding to those published in 1975 by Moody.
Many of the patients who have been revived have been able
to describe in great technical detail exactly what went
on in the operating room during the time they were supposedly
unconscious or dead. Dr Sabom investigated the hypothesis
that these patients were merely using their creative imagination,
or knowledge that they had subconsciously picked up through
earlier exposure to emergency care.
He interviewed a group of seasoned cardiac patients who
had not undergone Near-Death Experiences and asked them
to imagine watching a medical team reviving a heart attack
victim and to describe in as much detail as possible the
steps being taken. To his surprise 80% of them misdescribed
the procedures. On the other hand none of the group which
claimed to have witnessed their resuscitation while out
of their bodies made an error about the procedure (Sabom
A common experience
There are now literally millions of people from all over
the world who have undergone a Near-Death Experience. In
1983 a major American survey by George Gallup Junior reported
that eight million Americans, approximately five per cent
of the adult population had experienced one (Gallup 1982).
A 1989 Australian survey by Allan Kellehear and Patrick
Heaven found that ten percent of 179 people claimed to have
experienced at least five typical elements of a NDE.
Studies in widely differing geographic locations have produced
remarkably similar findings: Margot Grey's study of NDEs
in England (Grey 1985); Paola Giovetti's study in Italy
(Giovetti 1982); Dorothy Counts' study in Melanesia (Counts
1983); Satwant Pasricha and Ian Stevenson's (1986) study
in India. More studies are coming out from different countries
on a regular basis, and historical examples show that the
experience has been remarkably consistent over time (see
Plato's example of Er's NDE in The Republic).
Yet while these experiences have been happening throughout
human history, in western culture it is only in the last
twenty years that people have felt free to talk about them
and the effect that they have had on their lives.
Coming back with unexplained information
There are many accounts of people having Near Death Experiences
returning with factual information which they had no prior
knowledge of. These include being able to identify ancestors
from pictures, learning about siblings who had died before
their own birth, learning about family secrets etc. Others
were able to document information they had learned about
future events (see for example Eadie 1992, Brinkley 1994
and Atwater 2000: 204).
According to the International Association for Near Death
Studies, around eighty percent of the people who experience
near-death states claim that their lives are changed forever.
They experience specific psychological and physiological
differences on a massive scale which may cause major adjustment
difficulties for, on average, seven years but especially
during the first three years. This is true with child experiencers,
as well as with teenagers and adults.
These after-effects are shared by people, including children,
who had intense experiences in a particularly vivid dream,
while meditating or who have narrowly escaped death.
Cherie Sutherland, an Australian researcher, interviewed
50 NDE survivors in depth and found that the effects on
the lives of survivors had been remarkably consistent and
quite different from the effects of drug or chemical induced
hallucinations. She identified many effects which have been
substantiated by other studies e.g. Ring (1980 and 1984)
Atwater (1988). These included:
• a universal belief in life after death
• a high proportion (80%) now believed in re-incarnation
• a total absence of fear of death
• a large shift from organized religion to personal
• a statistically significant increase in psychic
• a more positive view of self and of others
• an increased desire for solitude
• an increased sense of purpose
• a lack of interest in material success coupled with
a marked increase in interest in spiritual development
• fifty per cent experienced major difficulties in
close relationships as a result of their changed priorities
• an increase in health consciousness
• most drank less alcohol
• almost all gave up smoking
• most gave up prescription drugs
• most watched less television
• most read fewer newspapers
• an increased interest in alternative healing
• an increased interest in learning and self-development
• seventy five per cent experienced a major career
change in which they moved towards areas of helping others.
Survivors become more psychic
An independent American study by Dr Melvin Morse found
that NDE survivors have three times the number of verifiable
psychic experiences as the general population, were frequently
unable to wear watches and often had electrical conduction
problems such as shorting out lap top computers and erasing
credit cards (Morse 1992). He also found that adults who
had near-death experiences gave more money to charity than
control subjects, were more likely to do volunteer work
in the community, worked more in helping professions, did
not suffer from drug abuse and ate more fresh fruit and
vegetables than control populations (Morse 1992).
Naturally, the near death experience cannot be taken simply
at face value without examining the following alternative
Are they making it up? As stated above,
those who studied the NDE—scientists, doctors, psychologists,
other investigators and skeptics—all now claim with
absolute certainty that the NDE does exist.
Some open-minded cardiologist investigators assumed the
NDE did not exist but subsequently changed their mind. Michael
Sabom, the cardiologist mentioned above, admitted that before
he started to investigate he felt sure that NDEs must be
'conscious fabrications' either on the part of those reporting
them or those writing about them. However, once he began
to investigate he was absolutely staggered by the genuineness
of the phenomena.
A cardiologist who was initially skeptical was Maurice
Rawlings who states in his book Beyond Death's Door (1978)
that he had always believed in death as total extinction
until one day a forty eight year old postman dropped 'dead'
in his office. As he began to resuscitate him the patient
began screaming: 'I'm in Hell! Keep me out of hell!'. At
first Rawlings says he told him: 'Keep your hell to yourself—I'm
busy trying to save your life’ but gradually he became
convinced by the sheer terror of the man he was working
on. So absolutely traumatic and convincing was the experience
that Dr Rawlings went on to write books about it. If you
accept the word of a highly credible and highly qualified
cardiologist, his whole life changed after this experience.
Frightening or hell-like near death experiences are quite
common and have been the subject of in depth research by
Bruce Greyson, MD and
Nancy Evans Bush, MA.
The Pharmacological Explanation? Some
suggest that NDE's are caused by drugs administered to the
patient at the time of his crisis. Drugs such as ketamine
and morphine have been suggested. Moody investigated this
hypothesis and rejected it (Moody 1975: 160-161). This was
because many of the patients who experienced NDEs had not
been given drugs, that drug-induced visions were markedly
different from each other and from genuine NDEs in content
and intensity and had no profound long-term effects.
Some investigators including R.K. Siegel reported that
some of those who have taken hallucinogenic drugs such as
LSD have experiences similar to NDEs. But we are also informed
that there are distinct differences between the effect of
LSD and the NDE. This has been effectively dealt with by
Moody and others.
Oxygen Deprivation? It is sometimes argued
that the NDE is caused by oxygen starvation and is a normal
response of a 'dying brain'. However many people have experienced
Near-Death Experience before there was any physiological
stress and in some case when there was no physical injury
at all (Moody 1975: 163). Sabom, consistent with Dr Fenwick,
noted that in genuine cases of oxygen deprivation there
is a 'progressive muddling and confusion of cognitive abilities'
which is in direct contrast to the clarity and expansion
of consciousness reported by those having a NDE (Sabom 1980:176).
There have been various attempts to claim that NDEs are
basically 'wish fulfillment'—that you see what you
have been culturally conditioned to expect. However Ring
(1984) Sabom (1982) and Grosso (1981) have all found that
there is no link, no correlation between religious beliefs
and experience of a NDE.
Other psychologists like Uri Lowental (1981) have argued,
without giving any evidence, that NDEs are 'a reliving of
the birth experience'. Their hypotheses are generally considered
Psychologists Kletti and Noyes (1981) have claimed that
NDEs represent 'depersonalization and pleasurable fantasies
which represent a form of psychic protection against the
threat of destruction'. However this explanation has also
been refuted by Gabbard and Twemlow (1981) who point out
that while depersonalization usually occurs in persons between
15 and 30 it is virtually unheard of in people over 40.
Others have proposed that NDEs are forms of 'autoscopic
hallucination'—a rare psychiatric disorder. However
both Sabom (1982) and Gabbard and Twemlow (1981) found this
implausible on the basis of a number of significant differences.
Neurophysiological Explanations? Moody
considered parallels between the past life review of NDE
patients and the flashbacks experienced by people with neurological
abnormalities. He concluded that both were essentially different
in that whereas the flashbacks were random and of trivial
events not remembered after the attack, in the life review
typical of a NDE the events were in chronological order
and were of highlights of the life. They were all seen at
once and constituted a 'unifying vision' which gave the
person insight into his life's purpose (Moody 1975: 166).
The dying brain? Dr Peter Fenwick is a
Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a neuropsychiatrist
with an international reputation—a specialist in the
mind/brain interface and the problem of consciousness. He
is Britain's leading clinical authority on the NDE and is
President of the International Association for the Near-Death
With his wife Elizabeth, also a Cambridge-trained professional
scientist, Dr Peter Fenwick made a thorough investigation
of the argument by skeptics and materialist psychologists
that a near death experience is caused by the physiological
effects of the dying brain (Fenwick 1996).
The argument by psychologists against the NDE has to be
seen in the light of their very limited knowledge of the
functioning of the brain. Psychologists do not have the
necessary depth of academic and practical professional training
of neuropsychiatrists like Dr Peter Fenwick to professionally
assess the physiology of the NDE. The professional training
of psychologists includes only a very basic training in
physiology. A look at five standard textbooks on university
Psychology shows that study of brain functioning constitutes
less than 5% of the overall learning on psychology. Psychologists
in training do not practice surgery, let alone the highly
specialized field of human brain surgery.
Certainly, someone in the position of Dr Fenwick would
have all the technical knowledge to accurately assess whether
or not the NDE can be explained by what is happening in
the dying brain. Dr Fenwick states that these psychologists
write absolute rubbish when they venture into areas of knowledge
outside their technical expertise, knowledge they don't
have, don't understand and which is outside their everyday
He is scathing with the skeptics:
(They) just don't have the knowledge...So much rubbish
is talked about Near-Death Experiences by people who don't
have to deal with these things on a daily basis. So I'm
absolutely sure that such experiences are not caused by
oxygen shortages, endorphins or anything of that kind. And
certainly none of these things would account for the transcendental
quality of many of these experiences, the fact that people
feel an infinite sense of loss when they leave them behind
(Fenwick 1995: 47).
As a consultant neuro-psychiatrist he constantly works
with people who are confused, disoriented and brain-damaged
and as Dr Fenwick points out:
What is quite clear is that any disorientation of brain
function leads to a disorientation of perception and reduced
memory. You can't normally get highly-structured and clearly
remembered experiences from a highly damaged or disoriented
brain (Fenwick 1995: 47).
He likewise refutes the endorphin argument:
As for that stuff about endorphins, we're boosting the
effect they have all the time because thousands of people
are given morphine every day. That certainly produces calmness,
but it doesn't produce structured experiences (Fenwick 1995:
Closed-minded skeptics are asked to answer the following
• If the NDE is the effect of a dying brain it should
happen to everyone who is dying. Why is it that not all
of those who are near death whose brain is 'dying' experience
• If the NDE is wish fulfillment, why is it that
not every NDE experience is a positive one? Why is it that
some experience a neutral and/or a horrific negative NDE
as documented by Phyllis Atwater (1994).
• If the NDE is caused by the release of endorphins,
what objective evidence exists to show that the release
of endorphins necessarily elicits a life review in an orderly
• What objective evidence exists to show that the
release of endorphins leads to the breakdown of a sense
of time and its relationship to 'self'?
• Why is it that nearly all those who have a NDE
undergo a permanent transformation which is consistent with
spiritual refinement, a more refined way of living?
• Why is it that most experiencers relate their newly
found intrinsic motivation to the powerful experience they
had out of the body?
• What objective proof is presented to show that
understanding of the role of the limbic system and temporal
lobe can account for the experiences of familiarity, insight
and deja vu and the statistically significant increase in
psychic experiences that follow NDEs?
• How do the skeptics explain the incredible consistencies
between NDEs and OBEs?
The critical Pam Reynolds case
The leading skeptics used to say that the near death experience
was the result of the activity of the dying brain or the
recovering brain; that no one can have a NDE while ‘dead’
– no one.
But Dr Michael Sabom, cardiologist, reports on a well
documented case of a person have a prolonged NDE with veridical
out of body perception while clinically dead for an hour.
Pam Reynolds underwent a rare operation to remove a life
threatening giant aneurysm (an abnormal widening or ballooning
of a portion of an artery, related to weakness in the wall
of the blood vessel) in her brain. The only way that the
doctors could operate was to connect her to a machine to
process her blood, lower her body temperature to 60 degrees,
and stop her heartbeat and brain activity.
During the hour that Pam was in standstill, she experienced
remarkably detailed veridical out-of-body observations during
her surgery were later verified to be very accurate.
According to Dr Sabom “This case is considered to
be one of the strongest cases of veridical evidence in NDE
research because of Pam’s ability to describe in detail
the unique surgical instruments used while she was dead,
what the nurses said to the doctors while operating other
and procedures used. Pam Reynolds’ had this spectacular
ability to describe in detail these events while she was
clinically and brain dead.”
Physical explanations insufficient
Elizabeth Fenwick, co-writer of the book The Truth
in the Light—An investigation of Over 300 Near-Death
Experiences (1996) actually began her research thinking
that all could be explained in scientific terms. But, after
investigating, she concluded:
While you may be able to find scientific reasons for
bits of the Near-Death Experience, I can't find any explanation
which covers the whole thing. You have to account for
it as a package and skeptics... simply don't do that.
None of the purely physical explanations will do. They
(Skeptics) vastly underestimate the extent to which Near-Death
Experiences are not just a set of random things happening,
but a highly organized and detailed affair (Fenwick 1995:
These views were supported by a study of Near-Death Experiences
in Holland by cardiologist Dr William van Lommel and his
team who studied 345 cases who would have died without resuscitation.
Ten per cent recalled a substantial Near-Death Experience
and a further eight percent had a less pronounced one.
These patients were compared to a control group who were
identical in terms of seriousness of their illness but who
had not had a Near-Death Experience. According To Dr Van
Our most striking finding was that Near-Death Experiences
do not have a physical of medical root. After all, 100 per
cent of the patients suffered a shortage of oxygen, 100
per cent were given morphine-like medications, 100 per cent
were victims of severe stress, so those are plainly not
the reasons why 18 per cent had Near-Death Experiences and
82 per cent didn't. If they had been triggered by any one
of those things, everyone would have had Near-Death Experiences
(Van Lommel 1995).
Similarly Yvonne Kason, a Canadian psychiatrist, has found
in her clinical practice people who are not close to dying
reporting near death-like experiences; these included people
who thought they were about to die and people who were meditating
(Kason 1994: 73).
On the Internet
For comprehensive detailed information on NDE see Kevin
Williams’ highly recommended site http://www.near-death.com
For more details and for assistance in coping with the
after-effects of a near-death state contact the International
Association for Near Death Studies. http://www.iands.org/aftereffects.html
For help in Understanding and Coping with a Frightening
Near-Death Experience. see
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