Near death experiences and a change in worldview

Hans Zingmark (a pulmonologist) and Anetth Granberg-Axell (a retired physician) wanted to examine the worldview-altering impact of near-death experiences (NDEs) amongst a group of survivors of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in Sweden.

Suspending their judgements on whether NDEs are veridical, they wanted to study these reports from a phenomenological perspective. That is, they felt that by acknowledging that the experience itself is real, and that by giving full attention to patients that are trying to synthesise that experience into their existing worldview, the clinician can provide improved an quality of care. “As such, we endeavour to understand the meanings of NDEs as experienced by patients, with particular attention being placed on how NDEs transform patients’ perspectives on life and death, specifically, as well as their effects on patients’ worldviews, in general.”

Their research covered a period of 12 months from August 2016 and looked at 30 patients (22 men and 8 women) who had been resuscitated following an SCA.

5 of those 30 patients had spontaneously reported experiences to medical staff consistent with an NDE and were followed up via in-person interviews 10 weeks after the event. Patients were encouraged to talk about their experiences in their own words and the transcripts were later analysed to extract recurrent themes.

Four main themes emerged:

  1. Being on the other side, in another dimension
  2. Not dreaming, this is a real experience
  3. Being in a non-physical condition without a body
  4. comparing views of life and death before and after the NDE.

Anders was married and 74 years of age. He had ended his working career in a leading position for a company with 20 employees. He viewed himself as an easy-going man who, for the most part, had a bright outlook on life. He ex-perienced an NDE during an SCA that lasted nearly two minutes. He said that the NDE started with a brightly lit, joyful meeting with his parents when he was about two or three years old, followed by a life review, where he re-ex-perienced his life at intensely high speed. He said that if he had compared it to the world’s fastest computer, the computer would have been slow in contrast. To him, the experience was clear and vivid, featuring memories and people from his past who were alive again. He also explained that before the experience, he did not believe in any form of continuation of life after death, although he said he had thought about it previously.

Bertil was 57 years old, married, and had adult children. He was an officer in law enforcement. He recalled experiencing a tunnel of light during an SCA that also lasted ap-proximately two minutes. The experience was very real to him. He felt like he was completely there with his whole consciousness and that he was moving forward inside a tunnel of light that he perceived to have an end, but which he never reached. The tunnel and the surroundings were full of life, and he said that never thought it had anything to do with death. He felt comfortable and unafraid. He was very curious about the tunnel and all that was going on there. As with Anders, Bertil was also very clear about a non-belief in continuation of life after death before his experience.

The authors found that the NDE experience affected each participants “values and attitudes towards life and death in various ways”, and that this significant change in worldview (at least sometimes) occured very quickly after resuscitation.

At this point I invite you to jump over and read the entire paper which includes more in-depth transcripts from the interviews: Near-death experiences and the change of worldview in survivors of sudden cardiac arrest: A phenomenological and hermeneutical study.

In conclusion the authors write:

As this study and others have demonstrated, NDEs have the potential to change patients’ worldview about life and death. Based on this study’s findings, the change can be rather quick, occurring as early as only a few min-utes after the awakening of the resuscitation. As such, a shift in worldview is potentially already manifest in the patient when the first meeting with a healthcare provider takes place after resuscitation. Awareness of this possible sudden change on the part of the healthcare provider will most likely also affect how the conversation with the patient will unfold.

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