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What Happens in the End?
You've probably seen the advertisements for Ricky Gervais's new movie, "Ghost Town," where a nurse tells him he died "just a little bit." These near-death experiences happen more often these days with the advancement of medical technology, and so it's gotten some researchers wondering. Say you’ve been given a heart disease health diagnosis and you suffer cardiac arrest. The paramedics are on their way but your heart has not beat for nearly 10 minutes. Are you dead?
It’s a question that the world’s leading death expert, Sam Parnia, M.D., wants to answer. To better understand just what death is and isn’t, Parnia and his colleagues are starting a three-year study of “out-of-body” experiences called the AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) project. It will include medical centers throughout the U.S., Europe, and Canada and more than 1,500 cardiac arrest survivors.
Parnia says that when your heart stops beating, your brain no long receives blood, so within about 10 seconds your brain activity should cease as well. However, about 10% to 20% of people who survive cardiac arrest report full consciousness. How can they be conscious when they’re clinically dead? Or, can the brain continue consciousness even after it’s been “turned off?”
The questions Parnia and his researchers raise couldn’t have even existed fifty years ago. Our technology and drugs have advanced so much that we can literally bring people back from the dead. It’s a powerful phenomenon that, Parnia feels, deserves its own branch of science.
Do you think the study of death as a scientific field should be pursued? What do you think of the idea of death as a health diagnosis rather than a moment or action? Have you ever had a near-death experience? [Time]