Is There Life After Death?

In his book, “Beyond Death’s Door”, Dr Maurice Rawlings, professor of Cardiology at Boston University Hospital, describes the following terrifying incident:

“Late one afternoon a 48 year old man was undergoing a stress test in my office when he suffered a cardiac arrest and dropped dead in front of me. I started external heart massage and a nurse initiated mouth to mouth. Unfortunately, the heart would not restart – a complete heart block had occurred. I inserted a pacemaker and the patient began “coming to”. But whenever I interrupted my compression of his chest to reach for an instrument, the patient would again lose consciousness and “die”.

“Each time the patient regained consciousness he screamed, “I’m in hell! I’m in hell!” He was terrified and pleaded with me to help him. I was scared to death myself. In fact, this episode literally scared the hell out of me! It terrified me enough to eventually research and write this book.”

“The patient had a terrified expression worse than anything I had ever seen. He had a grotesque grimace, expressing sheer horror. His pupils were dilated, he was perspiring and trembling. and his hair looked as if it was standing on end. And he kept yelling, “Help me! Help me! I am in hell! Every time you stop I go back there! Please don’t let me go back there!”

“I told him to keep his hell to himself. I remember saying, “I’m busy. Don’t bother me with your hell until I get you stabilised.” But the man was serious, and I sensed that he was undergoing some kind of spiritual torment.  By this time the patient had experienced four episodes of complete unconsciousness and clinical death from cessation of both heartbeat and breathing.”

“After the fourth episode he finally asked me, “How do I stay out of hell?” I told him I guessed it was the same principle taught in Sunday School – that he would have to ask Jesus Christ to help him.  Then he said, “I don’t know how. Please pray for me.” I told him I was a doctor, not a preacher. But he kept insisting, “Pray for me! Please!” I knew I had no choice – it was a dying man’s last request.”

“I didn’t know much about praying – it had literally been years since I had prayed – but I got him to repeat a simple prayer after me. It went something like this:“Dear Jesus, I ask you to keep me out of hell. Please forgive my sins. Amen.”

“The patient had 2 more death episodes after this but was eventually stabilised and taken to hospital. I went home, dusted off the Bible, and started reading it. I had to find out exactly what hell was like. I had always believed that there was no conscious existence after death. But now I was convinced that there was something to this life after death business, and I began reading the Bible regularly.

“Several days later, I visited the patient in hospital and asked him to describe what he actually saw in hell. Were there flames? What did it look like? Did he see anyone else? He said, “What hell? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I told him what had happened in my surgery. He couldn’t remember any of the unpleasant events at all. It’s as if God had wiped his memory clean of that horrible experience. The man has remained a strong Christian to this day, and has a powerful testimony. He can remember the prayer we prayed, and he recalls dying out twice after that. During these subsequent death experiences, he recalls looking down at me working on his body, and feeling a great peace.”

This incident prompted Dr Maurice Rawlings to initiate a prolonged study of Near Death Experiences (NDE’s), interviewing survivors and recording their experiences. Two things resulted from his study. Firstly, he discovered that a majority of people who survive NDE’s, report experiencing continued altered consciousness, including the sensation of rising up from their body, being able to watch medical staff working on their body, and experiencing visions of heaven or hell. His findings were documented in his landmark book, “Beyond Death’s Door”, published in 1972.

The second result of Dr Rawlings’ study was that he became so convinced of the reality of life after death that he became a Christian, himself. In his book he writes, “Just listening to these patients has changed my whole life. Now I know that there is a life after death – and until you know where you are going, it’s not safe to die.”

Dr Rawlings’ study is by no means the only study of Near Death Experiences by the scientific community. Since 1968, there have been an estimated 55 studies of NDE’s, involving interviews with a total of 3,500 survivors. Amongst these are landmark studies by:

  • 1968, Dr Celia Green
  • 1975, Dr Raymond Moody
  • 1980, Dr Kenneth Ring
  • 1981, International Association For Near Death Studies
  • 1985, Dr Melvin Morse
  • 2006, Dr Bruce Greyson
  • 2008-20012, Dr Sam Parnia

These and many other studies have been published in respected peer-reviewed academic journals such as:

  • Journal of Near Death Studies
  • Journal of Parapsychology
  • Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research
  • Journal of the New York Academy of Sciences
  • Psychology Today
  • Journal of Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine

The testimonials of NDE survivors, describing out of body experiences (OBE’s) and visions of the after-life, have been treated with scepticism by some in the academic world who are predisposed towards atheism. The most commonly proposed counter-theory to explain the preponderance of these NDE visions is that they are simply the result of chemical and electric impulses in the dying brain when it is starved of oxygen and blood supply. The question has, therefore, been posed as to whether there is any way to empirically establish whether these visions are more than mere hallucinations from a dying brain.

The landmark study of Dr Sam Parnia, conducted from 2008 to 2012, addressed that very question. Dr Parnia is Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Director of Resuscitation Research at The State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA.  The study involved interviews with a total of 140 cardiac arrest survivors from 15 hospitals across the UK, the USA and Austria. 101 out of the 140 survivors were able to complete Dr Parnia’s questionaire. Of these, 55 reported experiencing consciousness after cessation of breathing and heartbeat, with two patients providing detailed descriptions of events and items in the room that they could not have known. Of one patient in particular, Dr Parnia’s study reports:

  • The patient rose near the ceiling and looked down on his physical body, and saw the nurse and another man, bald and “quite a chunky fella”, who wore blue scrubs and a blue hat. The patient could tell that the man was bald because of where the hat was.
  • The next day, the patient recognized the bald man who had attended him during the resuscitation.
  • Dr Parnia thoroughly investigated this incident and concluded that the patient had had no previous contact with this staff member and that there was no plausible alternate explanation of how the patient could have identified the particular staff member.

Dr Parnia comments on the impossibility of consciousness without blood pressure:

Although the etiology of awareness during CA (Cardiac Arrest) is unknown, the results of our study and in particular our verified case of VA suggest it may be dissimilar to awareness during anesthesia. While some investigators have hypothesized there may be a brief surge of electrical activity after cardiac standstill, in contrast to anesthesia typically there is no measurable brain function within seconds after cardiac standstill. This ‘flatlined’ isoelectric brain state which occurs with CA onset usually continues throughout CPR (CardioPulmonary Resuscitation) since insufficient cerebral blood flow (CBF) is achieved to meet cerebral metabolic requirements during conventional CPR.”

In other words, medical science cannot explain ongoing consciousness after loss of blood pressure.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, writes, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). In fact, the Bible is replete with assurances that when the body dies, the spirit lives on. It speaks of an eternal existence that awaits all of us on the other side of death. Could science finally be acknowledging what the Bible has said all along?

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APPENDIX: OTHER NDE STUDIES

– In 1968 Celia Green published analysis of 400 accounts of NDE’s ( Green, C., Out-of-the-body Experiences, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968.)

– Psychiatrist Dr Raymond Moody coined the phrase “Near Death Experience” after his studies, published in 1975, of people experiencing consciousness long after flatlined brain activity (“Life After

– Dr Kenneth Ring, in his 1980 study (“Life at death: A scientific investigation of the near-death experience”. New York: Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan., p. 40), subdivided NDE’s on a five-stage continuum. The subdivisions were:

  1. Peace
  2. Body separation
  3. Entering darkness
  4. Seeing the light
  5. Entering the light

He stated that 60% experienced stage 1 (feelings of peace and contentment), but only 10% experienced stage 5 (“entering the light”)

– In 2001 Pim van Lommel, a cardiologist from the Netherlands, and his team conducted a study on NDEs including 344 cardiac arrest patients who had been successfully resuscitated in 10 Dutch hospitals. Patients not reporting NDEs were used as controls for patients who did, and psychological (e.g. fear before cardiac arrest), demographic (e.g. age, sex), medical (e.g. more than one cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)) and pharmacological data were compared between the 2 groups. The work also included a longitudinal study where the 2 groups (those who had had an NDE and those who had not had one) were compared at 2 and 8 years, for life changes. One patient had a conventional out of body experience where he reported being able to watch and recall events during the time of his cardiac arrest. His claims were confirmed by hospital personnel. “This did not appear consistent with hallucinatory or illusory experiences, as the recollections were compatible with real and verifiable rather than imagined events”

– A series of significant NDE studies were conducted by Dr Bruce Greyson (2001, 2003 and 2006). He defined common features as being “impressions of being outside one’s physical body, visions of deceased relatives and religious figures, and transcendence of egotic and spatiotemporal boundaries.” (“Near-Death Experiences in a Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic Population”. Psychiatric Services, December, Vol. 54 No. 12. The American Psychiatric Association)

– A paper published in 2009 reported a 17%incidence of NDE’s amongst critically ill patients, in nine prospective studies from 4 different countries (Zingrone, NL (2009). Pleasurable Western adult near-death experiences: features, circumstances, and incidence. (In: Holden JM, Greyson B, James D, editors. The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation.) (2009 ed.). SantaBarbara, CA: Praeger/ABC-CLIO. pp. 17–40. ISBN 978-0313358647.)

– In 2014 Greyson published a summary of a number of studies of NDE’s from around the world, stating that between 10% and 20% people experiencing cessation of cardiac activity and breathing in these studies had experienced NDE visions (Greyson, Bruce (2014). “Chapter 12: Near-Death Experiences”. In Cardeña, Etzel; Lynn, Steven Jay; Krippner, Stanley. Varieties of anomalous experience : examining the scientific evidence (Second ed.). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association. pp. 333–367. ISBN 978-1-4338-1529-4.)