An international collaboration of scientists and physicians have gotten together to undertake the largest study of near-death experiences. The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study is led by researchers from the University of Southampton, including Dr. Sam Parnia and other experts in the field of consciousness during clinical death.
About 10-20% of people who undergo cardiac arrest report signs of near-death experiences. Some people claim to have out-of-body experiences where they are observing themselves, or experiencing unpleasant or pleasant sensations, or meeting a deceased friend or relative.
In the study, doctors will study the brains of patients during cardiac arrest. They will also perform validity tests after the patients have recovered, determining the accuracy of claims that people can see and hear what’s going on in the room.
The results could not only give researchers a better understanding of the dying process, but also help them identify methods to improve medical and psychological care of patients who have undergone cardiac arrest.
“Contrary to popular perception, death is not a specific moment,” Parnia said. “It is a process that begins when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working and the brain ceases functioning – a medical condition termed cardiac arrest, which from a biological viewpoint is synonymous with clinical death.
“During a cardiac arrest, all three criteria of death are present. There then follows a period of time, which may last from a few seconds to an hour or more, in which emergency medical efforts may succeed in restarting the heart and reversing the dying process. What people experience during this period of cardiac arrest provides a unique window of understanding into what we are all likely to experience during the dying process.”
Many people who have near-death experiences are profoundly affected, and make major — often positive — life changes after the experience.
The team has completed a pilot phase at UK hospitals, and will expand the study into other medical centers in Europe and North America.