NEW YORK – Consciousness may continue even after death, scientists now believe.
Research into ‘near-death’ experiences has revealed that awareness and the mind may continue to exist after the brain has ceased to function and the body is clinically dead.
Scientists at the University of Southampton conducted a four-year study of more than 2,000 patients who had suffered cardiac arrests.
The research spanned cases at 15 hospitals in the UK, U.S. and Austria.
The findings revealed nearly 40 per cent of those who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.
Dr Sam Parnia, a former Southampton University research fellow now based at the State University of New York, who led the study, said: ‘The evidence thus far suggests that in the first few minutes after death, consciousness is not annihilated.
‘Whether it fades away afterwards, we do not know, but right after death, consciousness is not lost.’
The scientists heard one man recall leaving his body entirely, watching his resuscitation from the corner of the room.
The 57-year-old social worker from Southampton was ‘dead’ for three minutes yet managed to recount detailed actions of the nursing staff and the sound of the machines.
Dr Parnia said: ‘We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating.
‘But in this case conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped.
‘This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with ‘real’ events when the heart isn’t beating.
‘Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events.’
A total of 2,060 cardiac arrest patients were studied.
Of that number, 330 survived and 140 said that had been partly aware at the time of resuscitating.
Thirty-nine per cent of patients who survived cardiac arrest and were able to undergo interviews described a perception of awareness, but did not have any explicit memory of events.
‘This suggests more people may have mental activity initially but then lose their memories after recovery, either due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory recall,’ said Dr Parnia.
Among the study participants who recalled awareness, and completed further interviews, 46 per cent experienced a wide range of mental recollections, that were not compatible with the commonly used term, near death experiences.
They included feelings of fear and persecution.