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World’s largest study of near-death experiences to start

Sept. 11, 2008
Courtesy University of Southampton
and World Science staff

The Uni­ver­s­ity of South­amp­ton, U.K. an­nounced it is launch­ing this week the world’s largest-ever study on wheth­er peo­ple have thoughts for a time while they are clin­ic­ally “dead.”

The AWARE (A­WAre­ness dur­ing RE­sus­cita­t­ion) study is to be launched by the Hu­man Con­scious­ness Proj­ect at the uni­ver­s­ity, an in­terna­t­ional col­la­bora­t­ion of sci­en­tists and physi­cians who study the brain, con­scious­ness and clin­ical death.

The study is led by Sam Par­nia of Weill Cor­nell Med­i­cal Cen­ter in New York, with Uni­ver­s­ity of South­amp­ton re­search­ers. Fol­low­ing an 18-month pi­lot phase at some U.K. hos­pi­tals, the study is now be­ing ex­pand­ed to in­clude oth­er cen­tres with­in the U.K., main­land Eu­rope and North Amer­i­ca, Par­nia said.

“Con­trary to pop­u­lar per­­cep­tion,” Par­nia said, “death is not a spe­cif­ic mo­ment. 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.”

Some stud­ies have found that 10 to 20 percent of peo­ple who go through car­di­ac ar­rest and clin­ical death re­port lu­cid, well struc­tured thought pro­cesses, rea­son­ing, mem­o­ries and some­times de­tailed re­call of events dur­ing their en­coun­ter with death, Par­nia said.

Dur­ing the AWARE stu­dy, doc­tors will use soph­is­t­icated tech­nol­o­gy to study the brain and con­scious­ness dur­ing car­di­ac ar­rest. At the same time, they plan to test the val­id­ity of out of body ex­pe­ri­ences and claims of be­ing able to “see” and “hear” dur­ing car­di­ac ar­rest.


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The University of Southampton, U.K. announced it is launching this week the world’s largest-ever study on whether people have thoughts for a time while they are clinically “dead.” The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study is to be launched by the Human Consciousness Project at the university, an international collaboration of scientists and physicians who have joined forces to study the human brain, consciousness and clinical death. The study is led by Sam Parnia, an expert in consciousness during clinical death at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, with University of Southampton researchers. Following an 18-month pilot phase at some U.K. hospitals, the study is now being expanded to include other centres within the U.K., mainland Europe and North America, Parnia said. “Contrary to popular perception,” Parnia said, “death is not a specific moment. 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.” Some studies have found that 10-20 per cent of people who go through cardiac arrest and clinical death report lucid, well structured thought processes, reasoning, memories and sometimes detailed recall of events during their encounter with death, Parnia said. During the AWARE study, doctors will use sophisticated technology to study the brain and consciousness during cardiac arrest. At the same time, they will test the validity of out of body experiences and claims of being able to “see” and “hear” during cardiac arrest.