A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife

The Book 4th Edition

<< Previous Chapter : Book Index : Next Chapter >>

6. Near Death Experiences (NDEs)

“There seems little doubt that NDEs occur in all cultures and have occurred at all times through recorded history... the NDE happens to young and old, to people from all walks of life, to those whose life has a spiritual dimension and to those who profess no faith at all... there are many examples of people who have a NDE at a time when they did not even know that such a phenomenon existed.”
Dr Peter Fenwick

The Near Death Experience (NDE) is a powerful argument for the existence of the afterlife which because of recent advances in medical science is becoming widely reported. As medical resuscitation techniques are being improved more and more people are being brought back from the border of clinical death. A number of them recount an intense profoundly meaningful experience in which they seem to be alive and functioning outside their body. For many, a Near Death Experience is an extremely powerful emotional and spiritual experience.

The evidence for the NDE is consistent, overwhelming and experienced by the many. It is also consistent with evidence for other psychic phenomena—OBEs, with the information obtained from mental and physical mediums, and with apparitions.

The more informed closed-minded skeptics now acknowledge that there is no dispute at all about the existence of the NDE. The dispute is about what it means.

Psychics say that in a crisis situation, where death is almost inevitable or is perceived to be inevitable, the duplicate physical body, the astral or etheric body, sometimes leaves the physical body and experiences the first stages of the afterlife. When death does not occur, the duplicate body resumes its place in the physical body. Studies have shown that NDEs occurred following illness, surgery, childbirth, accident, heart attack and attempted suicide.

Skeptics say that there is no such thing as a duplicate body and whatever one experiences has to do with the problems of the physical body itself?it's all in the mind.

One pioneer in this area was Dr Raymond Moody Jr., who began his work as a skeptic. His first book Life After Life in 1975 is considered the classic work which opened this area to modern research was followed by two others in 1983 and 1988.

Since 1975 there have been many studies in many countries—so much so that there are now several international associations and journals for the investigation of near-death studies. Cherie Sutherland's excellent Australian book (1992) contains a selected bibliography of over 150 scholarly research reports.

Fifteen common elements

Moody found a striking similarity in accounts of 150 people who had these experiences—so much so that he was able to identify fifteen different elements which recur again and again in these reports. He constructed a typical experience which contains all of these elements:

A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel. After this he finds himself outside of his own physical body, but still in the immediate physical environment, and he sees his own body from a distance, as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from this unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval.

After a while he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd condition. He notices that he still has a 'body', but one of a very different nature and with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a kind he has never encountered before—a being of light—appears before him. This being asks him a question, nonverbal, to make him evaluate his life and helps him along by showing him a panoramic instantaneous playback of the major events of his life. At some point he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apparently representing the limit between earthly life and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go back to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet come. At this point he resists, for by now he is taken up with his experiences in the afterlife and does not want to return. He is overwhelmed by intense feelings of joy, love, and peace. Despite his attitude, though, he somehow reunites with his physical body and lives.

Later he tries to tell others, but he has trouble doing so. In the first place, he can find no human words adequate to describe these unearthly experiences. He also finds that others scoff, so he stops telling other people. Still the experience affects his life profoundly, especially his view about death and its relationship to life (Moody 1975: 21-23).

Dr Kenneth Ring, who produced a scientific study of Near-Death Experiences in 1980, confirmed Dr Moody's findings but found that people went through the experience in stages and a large number of people experienced only the first ones.

Other studies by Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson (1977), Michael Sabom and Sarah Kreutziger (1976), Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1983), Craig Lundahl (1981) and Bruce Greyson and Ian Stevenson (1980) all described a similar set of experiences.

Seeing while unconscious

Dr Michael Sabom, a Georgia cardiologist, interviewed 100 hospital patients who had narrowly escaped death. Of these 61 per cent reported experiencing classical NDE of the type closely corresponding to those published in 1975 by Moody.

Many of the patients who have been revived have been able to describe in great technical detail exactly what went on in the operating room during the time they were supposedly unconscious or dead. Dr Sabom investigated the hypothesis that these patients were merely using their creative imagination, or knowledge that they had subconsciously picked up through earlier exposure to emergency care.

He interviewed a group of seasoned cardiac patients who had not undergone Near-Death Experiences and asked them to imagine watching a medical team reviving a heart attack victim and to describe in as much detail as possible the steps being taken. To his surprise 80% of them misdescribed the procedures. On the other hand none of the group which claimed to have witnessed their resuscitation while out of their bodies made an error about the procedure (Sabom 1980: 120-121).

A common experience

There are now literally millions of people from all over the world who have undergone a Near-Death Experience. In 1983 a major American survey by George Gallup Junior reported that eight million Americans, approximately five per cent of the adult population had experienced one (Gallup 1982). A 1989 Australian survey by Allan Kellehear and Patrick Heaven found that ten percent of 179 people claimed to have experienced at least five typical elements of a NDE.

Studies in widely differing geographic locations have produced remarkably similar findings: Margot Grey's study of NDEs in England (Grey 1985); Paola Giovetti's study in Italy (Giovetti 1982); Dorothy Counts' study in Melanesia (Counts 1983); Satwant Pasricha and Ian Stevenson's (1986) study in India. More studies are coming out from different countries on a regular basis, and historical examples show that the experience has been remarkably consistent over time (see Plato's example of Er's NDE in The Republic).

Yet while these experiences have been happening throughout human history, in western culture it is only in the last twenty years that people have felt free to talk about them and the effect that they have had on their lives.

Coming back with unexplained information

There are many accounts of people having Near Death Experiences returning with factual information which they had no prior knowledge of. These include being able to identify ancestors from pictures, learning about siblings who had died before their own birth, learning about family secrets etc. Others were able to document information they had learned about future events (see for example Eadie 1992, Brinkley 1994 and Atwater 2000: 204).

Common after-effects

According to the International Association for Near Death Studies, around eighty percent of the people who experience near-death states claim that their lives are changed forever. They experience specific psychological and physiological differences on a massive scale which may cause major adjustment difficulties for, on average, seven years but especially during the first three years. This is true with child experiencers, as well as with teenagers and adults.
These after-effects are shared by people, including children, who had intense experiences in a particularly vivid dream, while meditating or who have narrowly escaped death.

Cherie Sutherland, an Australian researcher, interviewed 50 NDE survivors in depth and found that the effects on the lives of survivors had been remarkably consistent and quite different from the effects of drug or chemical induced hallucinations. She identified many effects which have been substantiated by other studies e.g. Ring (1980 and 1984) Atwater (1988). These included:

• a universal belief in life after death
• a high proportion (80%) now believed in re-incarnation
• a total absence of fear of death
• a large shift from organized religion to personal spiritual practice
• a statistically significant increase in psychic sensitivity
• a more positive view of self and of others
• an increased desire for solitude
• an increased sense of purpose
• a lack of interest in material success coupled with a marked increase in interest in spiritual development
• fifty per cent experienced major difficulties in close relationships as a result of their changed priorities
• an increase in health consciousness
• most drank less alcohol
• almost all gave up smoking
• most gave up prescription drugs
• most watched less television
• most read fewer newspapers
• an increased interest in alternative healing
• an increased interest in learning and self-development
• seventy five per cent experienced a major career change in which they moved towards areas of helping others.

Survivors become more psychic

An independent American study by Dr Melvin Morse found that NDE survivors have three times the number of verifiable psychic experiences as the general population, were frequently unable to wear watches and often had electrical conduction problems such as shorting out lap top computers and erasing credit cards (Morse 1992). He also found that adults who had near-death experiences gave more money to charity than control subjects, were more likely to do volunteer work in the community, worked more in helping professions, did not suffer from drug abuse and ate more fresh fruit and vegetables than control populations (Morse 1992).

Alternative explanations.

Naturally, the near death experience cannot be taken simply at face value without examining the following alternative explanations.

Are they making it up? As stated above, those who studied the NDE—scientists, doctors, psychologists, other investigators and skeptics—all now claim with absolute certainty that the NDE does exist.

Some open-minded cardiologist investigators assumed the NDE did not exist but subsequently changed their mind. Michael Sabom, the cardiologist mentioned above, admitted that before he started to investigate he felt sure that NDEs must be 'conscious fabrications' either on the part of those reporting them or those writing about them. However, once he began to investigate he was absolutely staggered by the genuineness of the phenomena.

A cardiologist who was initially skeptical was Maurice Rawlings who states in his book Beyond Death's Door (1978) that he had always believed in death as total extinction until one day a forty eight year old postman dropped 'dead' in his office. As he began to resuscitate him the patient began screaming: 'I'm in Hell! Keep me out of hell!'. At first Rawlings says he told him: 'Keep your hell to yourself—I'm busy trying to save your life’ but gradually he became convinced by the sheer terror of the man he was working on. So absolutely traumatic and convincing was the experience that Dr Rawlings went on to write books about it. If you accept the word of a highly credible and highly qualified cardiologist, his whole life changed after this experience.

Frightening or hell-like near death experiences are quite common and have been the subject of in depth research by Bruce Greyson, MD and
Nancy Evans Bush, MA.

The Pharmacological (KETAMINE) Explanation? Some suggest that NDE's are caused by drugs administered to the patient at the time of his crisis. Drugs such as ketamine and morphine have been suggested. Moody investigated this hypothesis and rejected it (Moody 1975: 160-161). This was because many of the patients who experienced NDEs had not been given drugs, that drug-induced visions were markedly different from each other and from genuine NDEs in content and intensity and had no profound long-term effects.

Some investigators including R.K. Siegel reported that some of those who have taken hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD have experiences similar to NDEs. But we are also informed that there are distinct differences between the effect of LSD and the NDE. This has been effectively dealt with by Moody and others.

Oxygen Deprivation? It is sometimes argued that the NDE is caused by oxygen starvation and is a normal response of a 'dying brain'. However many people have experienced Near-Death Experience before there was any physiological stress and in some case when there was no physical injury at all (Moody 1975: 163). Sabom, consistent with Dr Fenwick, noted that in genuine cases of oxygen deprivation there is a 'progressive muddling and confusion of cognitive abilities' which is in direct contrast to the clarity and expansion of consciousness reported by those having a NDE (Sabom 1980:176).

There have been various attempts to claim that NDEs are basically 'wish fulfillment'—that you see what you have been culturally conditioned to expect. However Ring (1984) Sabom (1982) and Grosso (1981) have all found that there is no link, no correlation between religious beliefs and experience of a NDE.

Other psychologists like Uri Lowental (1981) have argued, without giving any evidence, that NDEs are 'a reliving of the birth experience'. Their hypotheses are generally considered unhelpful speculation.

Psychologists Kletti and Noyes (1981) have claimed that NDEs represent 'depersonalization and pleasurable fantasies which represent a form of psychic protection against the threat of destruction'. However this explanation has also been refuted by Gabbard and Twemlow (1981) who point out that while depersonalization usually occurs in persons between 15 and 30 it is virtually unheard of in people over 40.

Others have proposed that NDEs are forms of 'autoscopic hallucination'—a rare psychiatric disorder. However both Sabom (1982) and Gabbard and Twemlow (1981) found this implausible on the basis of a number of significant differences.

Neurophysiological Explanations? Moody considered parallels between the past life review of NDE patients and the flashbacks experienced by people with neurological abnormalities. He concluded that both were essentially different in that whereas the flashbacks were random and of trivial events not remembered after the attack, in the life review typical of a NDE the events were in chronological order and were of highlights of the life. They were all seen at once and constituted a 'unifying vision' which gave the person insight into his life's purpose (Moody 1975: 166).

The dying brain? Dr Peter Fenwick is a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a neuropsychiatrist with an international reputation—a specialist in the mind/brain interface and the problem of consciousness. He is Britain's leading clinical authority on the NDE and is President of the International Association for the Near-Death Studies.

With his wife Elizabeth, also a Cambridge-trained professional scientist, Dr Peter Fenwick made a thorough investigation of the argument by skeptics and materialist psychologists that a near death experience is caused by the physiological effects of the dying brain (Fenwick 1996).

The argument by psychologists against the NDE has to be seen in the light of their very limited knowledge of the functioning of the brain. Psychologists do not have the necessary depth of academic and practical professional training of neuropsychiatrists like Dr Peter Fenwick to professionally assess the physiology of the NDE. The professional training of psychologists includes only a very basic training in physiology. A look at five standard textbooks on university Psychology shows that study of brain functioning constitutes less than 5% of the overall learning on psychology. Psychologists in training do not practice surgery, let alone the highly specialized field of human brain surgery.

Certainly, someone in the position of Dr Fenwick would have all the technical knowledge to accurately assess whether or not the NDE can be explained by what is happening in the dying brain. Dr Fenwick states that these psychologists write absolute rubbish when they venture into areas of knowledge outside their technical expertise, knowledge they don't have, don't understand and which is outside their everyday work.

He is scathing with the skeptics:

(They) just don't have the knowledge...So much rubbish is talked about Near-Death Experiences by people who don't have to deal with these things on a daily basis. So I'm absolutely sure that such experiences are not caused by oxygen shortages, endorphins or anything of that kind. And certainly none of these things would account for the transcendental quality of many of these experiences, the fact that people feel an infinite sense of loss when they leave them behind (Fenwick 1995: 47).

As a consultant neuro-psychiatrist he constantly works with people who are confused, disoriented and brain-damaged and as Dr Fenwick points out:

What is quite clear is that any disorientation of brain function leads to a disorientation of perception and reduced memory. You can't normally get highly-structured and clearly remembered experiences from a highly damaged or disoriented brain (Fenwick 1995: 47).

He likewise refutes the endorphin argument:

As for that stuff about endorphins, we're boosting the effect they have all the time because thousands of people are given morphine every day. That certainly produces calmness, but it doesn't produce structured experiences (Fenwick 1995: 47).

Closed-minded skeptics are asked to answer the following questions:

• If the NDE is the effect of a dying brain it should happen to everyone who is dying. Why is it that not all of those who are near death whose brain is 'dying' experience a NDE?

• If the NDE is wish fulfillment, why is it that not every NDE experience is a positive one? Why is it that some experience a neutral and/or a horrific negative NDE as documented by Phyllis Atwater (1994).

• If the NDE is caused by the release of endorphins, what objective evidence exists to show that the release of endorphins necessarily elicits a life review in an orderly way?

• What objective evidence exists to show that the release of endorphins leads to the breakdown of a sense of time and its relationship to 'self'?

• Why is it that nearly all those who have a NDE undergo a permanent transformation which is consistent with spiritual refinement, a more refined way of living?

• Why is it that most experiencers relate their newly found intrinsic motivation to the powerful experience they had out of the body?

• What objective proof is presented to show that understanding of the role of the limbic system and temporal lobe can account for the experiences of familiarity, insight and deja vu and the statistically significant increase in psychic experiences that follow NDEs?

• How do the skeptics explain the incredible consistencies between NDEs and OBEs?

The critical Pam Reynolds case

The leading skeptics used to say that the near death experience was the result of the activity of the dying brain or the recovering brain; that no one can have a NDE while ‘dead’ – no one.

But Dr Michael Sabom, cardiologist, reports on a well documented case of a person have a prolonged NDE with veridical out of body perception while clinically dead for an hour.

Pam Reynolds underwent a rare operation to remove a life threatening giant aneurysm (an abnormal widening or ballooning of a portion of an artery, related to weakness in the wall of the blood vessel) in her brain. The only way that the doctors could operate was to connect her to a machine to process her blood, lower her body temperature to 60 degrees, and stop her heartbeat and brain activity.

During the hour that Pam was in standstill, she experienced remarkably detailed veridical out-of-body observations during her surgery were later verified to be very accurate.

According to Dr Sabom “This case is considered to be one of the strongest cases of veridical evidence in NDE research because of Pam’s ability to describe in detail the unique surgical instruments used while she was dead, what the nurses said to the doctors while operating other and procedures used. Pam Reynolds’ had this spectacular ability to describe in detail these events while she was clinically and brain dead.”

Physical explanations insufficient

Elizabeth Fenwick, co-writer of the book The Truth in the Light—An investigation of Over 300 Near-Death Experiences (1996) actually began her research thinking that all could be explained in scientific terms. But, after investigating, she concluded:

While you may be able to find scientific reasons for bits of the Near-Death Experience, I can't find any explanation which covers the whole thing. You have to account for it as a package and skeptics... simply don't do that. None of the purely physical explanations will do. They (Skeptics) vastly underestimate the extent to which Near-Death Experiences are not just a set of random things happening, but a highly organized and detailed affair (Fenwick 1995: 47).

These views were supported by a study of Near-Death Experiences in Holland by cardiologist Dr William van Lommel and his team who studied 345 cases who would have died without resuscitation. Ten per cent recalled a substantial Near-Death Experience and a further eight percent had a less pronounced one.

These patients were compared to a control group who were identical in terms of seriousness of their illness but who had not had a Near-Death Experience. According To Dr Van Lommel (1995):

Our most striking finding was that Near-Death Experiences do not have a physical of medical root. After all, 100 per cent of the patients suffered a shortage of oxygen, 100 per cent were given morphine-like medications, 100 per cent were victims of severe stress, so those are plainly not the reasons why 18 per cent had Near-Death Experiences and 82 per cent didn't. If they had been triggered by any one of those things, everyone would have had Near-Death Experiences (Van Lommel 1995).

Similarly Yvonne Kason, a Canadian psychiatrist, has found in her clinical practice people who are not close to dying reporting near death-like experiences; these included people who thought they were about to die and people who were meditating (Kason 1994: 73).

On the Internet

For comprehensive detailed information on NDE see Kevin Williams’ highly recommended site

For more details and for assistance in coping with the after-effects of a near-death state contact the International Association for Near Death Studies.

For help in Understanding and Coping with a Frightening Near-Death Experience. see

<< Previous Chapter : Book Index : Next Chapter >>


Home | The Book | Reports | Ask Victor | Articles | Appearances | The Skeptics
About Victor | Links | Contact

Copyright © 2001 Victor Zammit.  All rights reserved.  --  
Web site by happysean