Review of The Lancet Article 3/6/02
Jody's Review of: Near
Death Experience In Survivors of Cardiac Arrest: A Prospective Study in the
van Lommel, et al, THE
LANCET • Vol 358 •
December 15, 2001
The is the largest prospective study of NDErs and published in a major British
medical journal, the Lancet. The
8-year old study involved 344 consecutive cardiac arrest patients who died and
were subsequently resuscitated. Of
these 344 patients, several had had repeat resuscitations.
The total deaths and resuscitations were 509.
The study was meticulously designed to measure NDEr life changes over the
8 year period, and to look at whether there were any statistically significant
differences in the areas of demographics, medical history, pharmacological and
psychological make-up. Specifically,
the test addressed skeptical concerns regarding the proper use of scientific
methodology, whether the NDE was caused by brain chemistry, if and how drugs
might affect the occurrences or perceptions of NDEs, and whether fear or other
psychological factors might account for NDEs.
of the glaring problems in NDE research is that there is no “one” definition
that is agreed upon by all researchers. It
should be noted that the definition was changed during the study to account for
the observed data. Moreover, van
Lommel admitted that this was a possible bias in the study.
Accordingly, an NDE is defined as:
The reported memory of all
impressions during a special state of consciousness, (awareness of being dead
50%) including specific elements such as out of body experience (24%),
pleasant feelings (56%), and seeing a tunnel(31%), a light (communication with
the light 14%, described the colors 14%), deceased relatives(32%), or a life
Additionally 29% talked of celestial landscapes and 8% described boundaries that
they could not go beyond.
at 2041. Clinical death was defined
as a period of unconsciousness caused by insufficient blood supply to the brain
because of inadequate blood circulation, breathing or both.
This study can be cited for major NDE scientific findings,
the largest being that NDEs are not
at 2039. Van Lommel proved
under rigid methodology that the occurrence of the NDE was not associated with
“duration of cardiac arrest or unconsciousness, medication, or fear of death
prior to the cardiac arrest.”
Given the similarity in physiological make-up of the sample
population, one would expect that most of the 344 patients should experience an
This would take into account
the skeptic argument of cerebral anoxia (dying brain cells).
However, that is not the case. The
findings were that 18% of the 344 cardiac arrest patients had an NDE, with 12%
of the 18% reporting a “core experience.”
Therefore, NDE is not
correlated with physiological causes of death.
However, the study did find that age might play a factor in the
occurrence of NDEs in that younger experiencers were more likely to have an NDE
and more likely to have a core experience.
same argument pertaining to physiological make-up could be made for those in the
sample population who were psychologically afraid of death right before the
cardiac arrest. However, there was
no difference between those who were afraid and reported an NDE as opposed to
those who were afraid and did not report an NDE.
at 2039. Therefore, NDE
doesn’t appear to be caused by emotional make-up such as fear.
is most significant to me, was that it took NDErs several years to integrate the
NDE into their lives, consistent with
’s observations. Van Lommel called
the integration period, the length of time for the transformation to occur.
I would call it “spiritual transformation.”
The transformation included life-changing insight, heightened intuition,
and disappearance of fear of death.
at 2040. Contrarily, those
who did not experience and NDE were more likely to become agnostic or atheist
and still fear death. The depth of
the experience, whether it was only an OBE or if it was a core experience, did
not affect depth of spiritual transformation.
Another key part of the longitudinal study was the effect of time, memory and
suppression of the NDE during the integration process.
The commentary in the Lancet talks of NDEs being the result of false
memories. Interestingly, if this
were true, then this rationale could not explain why the study found that people
could recall their NDE exactly over the span of a 2-year and an 8-year period.
at 2041. Moreover, the skeptic
commentary quoted memory studies of children, but lacked information on adults.
The cardiac arrest population consisted of adults rather than children.
There was a profound lack of explanation as to what constitutes false
memory, and many in the field of psychology agree that false memory is credited
with filling in small gaps in memory rather than inventing whole stories.
real weakness of the study from my perspective was that it used Ken Ring’s NDE
scoring which rated positive feelings as an element of NDEs.
This does not take into account frightening NDEs.
Here, negative feelings should score just as high as positive feelings.
If anything, people would be less likely to share negative feelings and a
frightening NDE should take longer to process than positive NDEs or to integrate
due to the difficulty in wanting to revisit the NDE.
This would lead to a biasing in the results.
The occurrence of NDEs is most likely is higher than reported.
Id. at 2043.
Van Lommel could not find any medically explicable explanation for why NDEs
occur, he did acknowledge that the neurological processes had to play a part in
the NDE, noting similarities between various other phenomena such as electrical
stimulation of the temporal lobe of the brain. Id.
at 2044. However, he also commented
on the fragmented and randomness of the memories derived by these other
Only the NDE had clear recall in a sequential order as evidenced by the
life review. Van Lommel left the
door open for speculation that in order for a NDE to occur, memories and thought
processes must occur outside of the physical body – ergo the brain is merely a
transmitter rather than a receptacle of thought and memory. (Also
see Berkovich article)
Copyright1999 by Dr. Jeff and Jody Long
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