Scientists are trying to understand what clinical death is
Scientists are trying to understand what clinical death is

Among the causes of clinical death are oxygen starvation, imperfection of anesthesia techniques, and neurochemical processes that occur in response to trauma. Clinical death survivors, however, reject such purely physiological explanations. They ask: how, then, to explain all the various manifestations of clinical death?

Recently, the issue of clinical death has received increased attention.


For example, the 2014 film Heaven Is for Real tells the story of a young man who told his parents that he was on the other side of death during surgery. The film grossed $ ninety-one million during the US box office. The book, which appeared in 2010 and served as the basis for the script, sold well, selling ten million copies, and for 206 weeks the book remained on the New York Times bestseller list.

There were also two new books. The first is Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven; in it, the author describes a state of clinical death in which he himself was when he lay for two weeks in a coma due to meningitis. The second book is To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal. The author herself was in a state of clinical death due to an accident while traveling by kayak. Both books lasted 94 and 36 weeks respectively on the bestseller list. True, the character of another 2010 book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, recently admitted that he made it all up.

The stories of these authors are similar to dozens, if not hundreds, of other testimonies and thousands of interviews with those who have been in a state of clinical death over the past twenty years (these people call themselves "witnesses"). Although clinical death is viewed differently in different cultures, all of these eyewitness accounts are, by and large, very similar.


The most studied evidence of clinical death in Western culture. Many of these stories describe similar cases: a person is freed from the body and watches as doctors scurry around his unconscious body. In other testimonies, the patient is fascinated with the other world, sees spiritual beings on his way (some patients call them "angels") and is immersed in an atmosphere of love (some call it God); meets with long-dead relatives and friends; remembers some episodes from his life; realizes how he merges with the universe, experiencing a feeling of all-consuming and supernatural love.

However, in the end, the patient witnesses are forced to reluctantly return back from the magical otherworldly realm to the mortal body. Many of them did not consider their state as a dream and hallucination; instead, they sometimes claimed to be in a state of "more real than real life." After that, their outlook on life changed radically, and so much so that it was difficult for them to adapt to ordinary life. Some changed jobs and even divorced their spouses.

Over time, a sufficient body of literature has accumulated that studies the phenomenon of clinical death, which is the result of physical changes in an injured or dying brain.

Among the causes of clinical death are oxygen starvation, imperfection of anesthesia techniques, as well as neurochemical processes that have arisen as a reaction to traumatic effects.However, those who have experienced clinical death reject such purely physiological explanations as inadequate. They argue the following: since the conditions under which clinical death occurred are very different, it is not possible to explain with their help all the various manifestations of clinical death.

Recently a book was published by two doctors - Sam Parnia and Pim van Lommel. They rely on articles published in reputable journals, in which the authors, on the basis of experimental data, try to thoroughly understand the question of the nature of clinical death. In October, Parnia and his colleagues published the results of one of the recent studies, which describes more than two thousand testimonies of patients who went to intensive care after cardiac arrest.

Authors such as Mary Neal and Eben Alexander in their books talked about what they had to observe while being in a state of clinical death, and presented this mysterious state in a new light. So, Mary Neal, being a doctor herself, several years before she experienced clinical death, served as head of the department of spinal surgery at the University of Southern California (she is currently in private practice). Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who has taught and performed surgeries at prestigious clinics and medical schools such as Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard University.

It was Alexander who raised the scientific stakes, so to speak. He studied his medical history and came to the following conclusion: being in a state of clinical death, he was in a deep coma, and his brain was completely disabled, so his sensory experience can only be explained by the fact that his soul completely left his body and prepared for the journey in the other world, in addition, one must accept that angels, God and the other world are as real as the world around us.

Alexander did not publish his findings in medical journals and, already in 2013, an investigative article appeared in Esquire magazine, in which the author partly questioned some of Alexander's conclusions. In particular, he was skeptical about the key claim that Alexander's sensations occurred at the very moment when his brain showed no signs of activity.

For skeptics, Alexander's memories and the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven were on a par with all sorts of fables, for example, about people abducted by aliens, paranormal abilities, poltergeist and other stories - in other words, they began to be considered food for charlatans, a desire to cheat ignorant and suggestible people.

But even notorious skeptics, as a rule, do not believe that people who survived clinical death made everything up. We do not argue, maybe some of the patients really fantasized something, but still we cannot dismiss all the evidence we have, since there are a lot of them and they are well documented. In addition, it is difficult to ignore the testimony of recognized medical professionals. Even if life after death does not exist, it still seems as if it exists.

There is something mysterious in the very phenomenon of clinical death that makes this phenomenon an attractive object for scientific research. There is no need to talk about any abductions by aliens or the existence of spiritual entities and the like, since these phenomena are not recorded in laboratory conditions. Clinical death is another matter - it can be recorded using various kinds of equipment that measure the activity of the human body.


Moreover, medical technology is constantly being improved, which allows "pumping out" the patient, pulling him out of the embrace of death.Modern medicine has already learned how to return a person from the "other world" after he spent "there" for several hours, say, lying in the snow or choking.

True, sometimes doctors have to deliberately enter a patient into a state of clinical death in order to carry out very complex operations; for this purpose, anesthesia is used and the patient's heart is stopped. So, for example, recently, using a similar technique, surgeons began to operate on patients who have suffered severe injuries, keeping them between life and death until the end of the surgical intervention.

Thus, clinical death is probably the only kind of spiritual experience that can be thoroughly investigated with the help of science and thereby test the claims of the ancients, who argued that man is more than flesh; it will be possible to understand more deeply the work of consciousness - one of the greatest mysteries of our world, and even the most inveterate materialists will not deny this.

… And so, last summer, I found myself in Newport Beach, California, at the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Clinical Death (IANDS), which in 1981 became an independent organization. I wanted to know why a person begins to claim that he has been “in the next world”? Why are the descriptions of the state of clinical death in different patients so similar? Can science somehow explain all this?

The conference was held in a warm and friendly atmosphere and, rather, resembled a meeting of old friends. Many of the members have known each other over the years. Each of them wore a ribbon of one color or another with the words "Speaker", "Participant of the discussion", "Volunteer". There were also those who had on the ribbon written "He suffered clinical death." The conference program provided for meetings and seminars on a wide range of issues, for example: "The study of clinical death in the framework of neuroscience", "Sacred geometry of dance: a vortex that opens the way to the Divine", "Shared memories of a past life."

Opening the discussion, IANDS President Diane Corcoran was clearly addressing first-time newcomers to the conference. First, she talked about a number of conditions under which a person enters into a state of clinical death - a heart attack, an accident on the water, an electric shock, an incurable disease, post-traumatic pathology.

After that, Corcoran listed the characteristic features of clinical death.

She referred to Bruce Greyson, one of those physicians who pioneered the serious study of clinical death and developed a sixteen-point scale to characterize the experience of a patient in a near-death state. This also includes such, for example, characteristics: a feeling of joy, a meeting with spiritual beings, a feeling of separation from one's body, etc. Each point is assigned its own weight (0, 1, 2). Moreover, the maximum score is 32 points; the state of clinical death corresponds to 7 points and above. According to one scientific study, patients who experienced clinical death have an average score of 15.

Nevertheless, the long-term consequences of clinical death are an equally important indicator, Corcoran emphasized.

According to her, many people, even after a few years, do not realize at all that they were in this state. And patients begin to realize this only after they pay attention to its consequences, for example, such as: increased sensitivity to light, sounds and certain chemicals; increased, sometimes excessive, attentiveness and generosity; inability to properly manage your time and finances; the manifestation of unconditional love in relation to family and friends; and strange effects on electrical equipment.

So, for example, Corcoran recalls, at one of the conferences where four hundred people who had been in a state of clinical death gathered, the computer system in the hotel where the conference was taking place suddenly went out of order.

Corcoran itself had two badges. One has her name and surname written on it; attached to the badge are colored ribbons with the words “35 years old”, “Ask me”, “I am here to serve” (she stated the following about the addition of ribbons: “It started as a joke, but has become a tradition”). Another badge reads "Colonel" as she has held a number of senior positions in the Army Nurse Corps during her long career; in addition, Corcoran holds a doctorate in nursing. She first witnessed clinical death in 1969, when she worked as an assistant nurse at the largest American military base, Long Binh in Vietnam.

“Nobody ever talked about clinical death, until one young man told me about it one day,” Corcoran told me over breakfast. "However, at that time I had no idea what he was trying to explain to me so emotionally."

Since then, she has been trying to draw the attention of doctors to clinical death so that they still take this phenomenon more seriously.

“The fact is that most doctors do not attach much importance to the phenomenon of death and the process of a person's passing out of life,” says Diana. “Therefore, as soon as you start talking about how the soul leaves the body and begins to see and hear everything that happens next to it, then in response they tell you that, they say, all these cases are beyond the competence of doctors.”

And more recently, Diana Corcoran, not without difficulty, found among the war veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, those who have been in a state of clinical death and are ready to talk about it.

“During my service in the ranks of the armed forces, I was fully convinced that this issue is purely medical. And I told [the doctors] that they will have to get used to this idea, since there are many patients who have been in clinical death, and for their further treatment, this information is simply necessary."

Written evidence of clinical death or a condition similar to it appears, according to some scientists, already in the Middle Ages, and according to others, even in the days of Antiquity.

More recently, the medical journal Resuscitation reported that clinical death was first described in the eighteenth century by a French military doctor. However, in our time, serious interest in the study of clinical death did not arise until 1975 after Raymond A. Moody, Jr. published his famous book Life After Life, which provides evidence fifty people.

After the appearance of Moody's book, as if from a cornucopia, a whole stream of other evidence gushed forth; they began to be talked about everywhere - both on TV shows and in the press.

Even a small community of like-minded people has emerged, uniting psychiatrists, psychologists, cardiologists and other specialists. They all agreed with Moody, who argued that consciousness (you can call it the word "soul" or "spirit") is able to exist in some immaterial form separately from the brain, but in interconnection with it, as evidenced by the phenomenon of clinical death. Leading members of this community of scholars have long worked at prestigious universities and hospitals. They carefully review each other's books and discuss the essence of spirituality and the nature of consciousness.


Perhaps the best overview is the anthology, The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation, published in 2009.

Its authors claim that by 2005, about 600 scientific articles had appeared, based on the testimonies of almost 3,500 people who reported being in a state of cynical death.Many of the papers have been published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, a journal that speaks to IANDS and is proudly peer-reviewed by the association.

A lot of other evidence appears in other prestigious medical publications. So, as of February, the PubMed database, which is maintained by the National Library of Medicine (and which, however, does not index the IANDS journal), had only 240 scientific articles devoted to clinical death.

Note that most of the work on clinical death is retrospective, that is, it means the fact that scientists rely on the testimony of people who have been in such a state in the past. From a scientific point of view, there are some difficulties here. And since the patients themselves took the initiative and offered their own memories, their testimony can hardly be considered representative.

It may also happen that people for whom the state of clinical death appears negatively colored, accompanied by phobias and fears, are in no hurry to talk about it, unlike those whose memories of this condition were colored positively. (One argument that clinical death is not at all a hallucination experienced by a fading mind is that many of the testimonies contain similar details. Notably, negative memories account for 23% of all [over a dozen] patient testimonials. Specialists pay much less attention to these cases, and in the books, apparently, such cases are not considered at all).

Since many certificates of clinical death were recorded in writing only a few years after its onset, they themselves may be questionable.

And, most importantly, as a result of post facto studies, it is impossible to obtain reliable data on what exactly happened to the patient's body and brain at the moment when his soul “separated from the body”.

About a dozen promising works have been published, and only in recent years have several studies at once. In them, scientists tried to interview each of the patients who were in a state of clinical death (for example, in intensive care after cardiac arrest) as quickly as possible.

The patients were asked questions about how they felt at the moment when the doctors tried to get them out of the coma. If they reported anything unusual, then scientists began to carefully study their medical history, as well as interview the attending physicians, thus trying to explain their "vision" and show that the patient's brain had indeed been disconnected for some time. Thus, a total of just under three hundred people were interviewed.

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