Study confirms people are conscious after death
Twin studies in the US and Europe investigate the phenomenon of people being conscious after death, or the moment the heart stops.
The mind still works after death, or when the body stops showing signs of life, a recent study confirms. That’s right, depending on how you die, you might one day be able to hear doctors pronounce your own death.
Dr. Sam Parnia, Director of Critical Care and Resuscitation Research at NYU Langone School of Medicine in New York City, confirms that people may experience some form of consciousness shortly after death.
He and his team are investigating the prevalence of consciousness after death with studies in the United States of America and Europe. The twin studies, the largest combined study of its kind, look into people who suffered cardiac arrest, technically died, and were later revived.
Knowing you’re dead
Some of the study’s subjects said they could still hear and see even after they were pronounced dead.
“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,” Dr. Parnia said.
These statements were later verified by medical staff present at the time of these people’s deaths and their eventual revival.
Definition of death
Experts define death as the permanent halting of all biological functions that sustain a living organism. But it wasn’t always so. Before the development of CPR and defibrillation, it was defined as the stopping of the heartbeat and breathing.
“Technically, that’s how you get the time of death – it’s all based on the moment when the heart stops,” Dr. Parnia said. “Once that happens, blood no longer circulates to the brain, which means brain function halts almost instantaneously.”
This definition, however, became insufficient. Modern medicine can restart heartbeat and breathing once they stop.
Brain death therefore qualifies as true death, since the brain is essential for integrating critical functions of the body. The term “brain death” is very specific in medical-legal terms and should not be confused with “vegetative state”.
There’s even evidence that suggests there’s a burst of electrical energy in the brain after death.
Four years ago, researchers at the University of Michigan studied this phenomenon in rats. They looked at the electrical signals inside the brains of nine anaesthetised rats experiencing induced heart attacks.
They found that shortly after death, the rats showed brain activity patterns linked to a “hyper-alerted state.”
Experience after death
“In the same way that a group of researchers might be studying the qualitative nature of the human experience of ‘love’, for instance,” Dr. Parnia said.
“We’re trying to understand the exact features that people experience when they go through death, because we understand that this is going to reflect the universal experience we’re all going to have when we die.”
“We also study the human mind and consciousness in the context of death,” he also said.
“To understand whether consciousness becomes annihilated or whether it continues after you’ve died for some period of time — and how that relates to what’s happening inside the brain in real time.”
“And the evidence reveals that people whose heart stopped and then restarted – usually on the operating table – could describe exactly what had been happening around them.”