The Final Trip

The Final Trip
Vol: 148 Issue: 27 Monday, January 27, 2014

Dr. Sam Parnia is two years into his three-year study of the biology behind the ‘out of body’ experiences reported by survivors of cardiac arrest that had been resuscitated after clinical ‘death’.

The study, known as AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation), involves the collaboration of 25 major medical centers through Europe, Canada and the U.S. and will examine some 1,500 survivors of cardiac arrest.

Dr. Parnia’s methodology is simple. Emergency rooms involved in the study were equipped with certain objects visible only from the ceiling, since the majority of those claiming out of body experiences said they could see what was going on as they hovered over their own bodies.

Dr. Parnia is one of the world’s leading expert on the scientific study of death. Dr. Pin Van Lommel is the other leading expert on death. 

Dr. Van Lommel’s interest in death was piqued in 1969 following the successful resuscitation of a patient. Everyone was very pleased, he said, except the patient, who was extremely disappointed.

Dr. Van Lommel described it this way:

He was extremely disappointed. He spoke of a tunnel, of colors, of a light, of a beautiful landscape and of music. He was very emotional.

At the time, nobody had heard of a near-death experience. Such a thing, an NDE, didn’t exist.

I’d never heard of anyone remembering things from the moments when they were in cardiac arrest — moments when they were, in fact, dead in scientific terms.

Truth be told, medical school taught me that such a thing is fundamentally impossible. To the medical mind, being unconscious means being unaware.

Later, I would learn that NDEs are part of many cultures, and figure in many religions throughout history. In 1986, I read a book about near-death experiences that got me asking how such a thing could happen, and was it perhaps more common than we knew.

I wanted to know the answers, and there was no scientific data out there to help me. So I did my own study, starting in 1988 with 344 cardiac-arrest survivors.

Of the patients in Dr.Van Lommel’s study, nearly one in five reported some kind of post-death experience. Some reported clear thoughts, memories, emotions and perceptions, others recalled things like light, tunnels, music or beautiful landscapes.

Such experiences, say the medical experts, are physically impossible.  Our thoughts and experiences are the result of chemical interactions taking place within the brain.  On death, the neurons stop firing.

As soon as the blood stops flowing, the cells go into a frenzy to keep themselves alive.  Cell damage begins in less than five minutes and within an hour, the damage is irreversible.   Theoretically, the human consciousness stops when the heart does. 

Not according to Dr. Van Lommel:

Near-death experiences defy current medical logic, which says all our thoughts and experiences are merely the result of electrochemical activity in our brains. When that electromechanical activity ceases, so, too, should our ability to feel and process sensation.

This phenomenon can no longer be scientifically ignored. It is an authentic occurrence that can’t be simply reduced to imagination, fear of death, hallucination, psychosis, the use of drugs, or oxygen deficiency.

Dr. Van Lommel’s team performed a secondary followup study with two groups of cardiac arrest survivors.  One group reported some kind of near death experience – the other group did not.

This study was designed to assess whether the transformation in attitude toward life and death following an NDE is the result of having an NDE or the result of the cardiac arrest itself. In this follow-up research into transformational processes after NDE, we found a significant difference between patients with and without an NDE. The process of transformation took several years to consolidate. Patients with an NDE did not show any fear of death, they strongly believed in an afterlife, and their insight in what is important in life had changed: love and compassion for oneself, for others, and for nature. They now understood the cosmic law that everything one does to others will ultimately be returned to oneself: hatred and violence as well as love and compassion. Remarkably, there was often evidence of increased intuitive feelings. Furthermore, the long lasting transformational effects of an experience that lasts only a few minutes was a surprising and unexpected finding.

Many patients were able to describe events taking place in the emergency room while they were dead. One patient recalled where a nurse had put his dentures when they were removed to intubate after he had been dead for thirty minutes.

Many patients reported experiencing a sort of ‘life review’ that involved every thought, word or deed ever committed during their lifetimes.   Others reported encountering deceased relatives.  

There was a universal resentment at being returned to their physical bodies. Those who reported a hellish experience later underwent a religious conversion.  All lost any fear of death.

I can confirm some of this from personal experience. An old friend passed away a few years back with a brain tumor that was only discovered after he inexplicably slipped into a coma that lasted for several weeks.

When he came back out of it, he was a different man. He told me about spending time with his dad.  He said it was the most wonderful experience he’d ever had.  He had zero fear of death thereafter. He told me he could hardly ‘wait to get back.’ 

Wylie died some months later, with his family around him.  By all accounts he was completely prepared. The hospice doctor was standing by to induce a coma from which Wylie would slip back into death.

Wylie was practically eager, his wife told me.


If these studies prove anything at all, they prove that there is more to this life than simply this physical existence.  Of course, as Christians, we already know that, but it is nice to have a little confirmatory science. 

What should we take away from this as Christians?   Are these experiences necessarily Biblical?  Nope. I don’t think so.   I don’t even think they necessarily have to be Divine. 

They could just as well be an enemy effort at lulling people into believing that salvation isn’t necessary and that everybody goes to a warm and fuzzy place.   

But what we should take away from this is the certain knowledge that you aren’t a body — you have a body.  You have a brain, but your brain is not your mind — it is your mind’s container.

Your mind is the repository of your consciousness, will and emotions – this is the soul – the part that continues after death.   If your soul’s spirit has been quickened, (made alive, or what we call ‘saved’) then to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.  

If not, then your soul (mind, will and emotions) will be judged according to the things done in the body and cast into hell.  

Hell is no fairy tale.   It is not a religious bogey-man invented by churches to keep their congregants in line.  Hell is as real as heaven.  Jesus described it as the place where “the fire is never quenched and their worm dieth not.”

Heaven is a real place, too.   It is the place where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

As we approach the end of this present age, we are exhorted to look for the Rapture, the “Blessed Hope” when the Lord Himself will come for the Church and we will meet with the Lord in the air.   

It is the hope of every believer.

But in reality, death is really just an advance ticket to the Big Show. Those already dead return with the Lord and get their resurrection bodies first.  But they are already with the Lord.   

Everybody wants to go to heaven. But nobody wants to die. That’s why the Rapture’s called “The Blessed Hope.”

Because for a Christian, the only scary part being dead is getting that way.

Update: Dr. Sam Parnia is continuing his studies with project AWARE.  This Letter was originally published October 2, 2010.

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About Pete Garcia

Christian, father, husband, veteran, pilot, and sinner saved by grace. I am a firm believer in, and follower of Jesus Christ. I am Pre-Trib, Dispensational, and Non-Denominational (but I lean Southern Baptist).

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