Scientists have discovered that a person’s consciousness continues to work after the body has stopped showing signs of life – meaning they are aware of their own death.
And there is evidence to suggest someone who has died may even hear their own death being announced by the doctors. Scientists say research shows that people who have been declared dead can sometimes remember events after ‘death’ – and there’s evidence to prove it.
Dr Sam Parnia of the University of Southampton, who has conducted large studies on the subject, revealed that some patients who were declared dead after their heart stopped beating but later came back to life have told of how they heard their own death being declared. Some claim to have floated above their body, watching as medics save their lives
Dr Parnia told Live Science: “They’ll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they’ll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them.”
He said these recollections were verified by medical and nursing staff who reported their patients, who were technically dead, could remember details of what they were saying. It may be to do with the way we define death, which is based on when the heart no longer beats, driving blood to the brain.
Dr Parnia says: “Technically, that’s how you get the time of death – it’s all based on the moment when the heart stops. Once that happens, blood no longer circulates to the brain, which means brain function halts almost instantaneously. You lose all your brain stem reflexes – your gag reflex, your pupil reflex, all that is gone.”
The brain’s cerebral cortex – which is responsible for thinking and processing information from the five senses – also instantly flatlines, says Dr Parnia. This means that within 2 to 20 seconds, no brainwaves will be detected on an electric monitor. This sparks a chain reaction of cellular processes that will result in the death of brain cells. However, this can take hours after the heart has stopped, he explained. And performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) that hasn’t successfully revived a patient can still result in sending some blood to the brain – about 15 percent of what it requires to function normally.
This means that the heart might have stopped beating but the brain is still functioning and the dead person knows they are dead and are aware of what’s going on around them.
In an earlier study, Dr Parnia’s team at the University of Southampton, studied 2,060 patients who had been through cardiac arrest, and then come back to life, in the largest study of its kind. Around half of the patients recalled something from their time in cardiac arrest – but many of these experiences are frightening, or involved memories of real events from a time when the person is supposedly dead.
Several patients remembered real events from the operating theatre after they had ‘died’, the University of Southampton researchers said. Dr Sam Parnia said that in one case, researchers were able to verify that a patient had recalled real events after their heart had stopped.
Dr Parnia said: “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.
Some report having seen light at the end of a tunnel, while others claim to have floated above their body, watching as medics save their lives.
But the reality of near-death experiences has always been debated.