I am currently reading Consciousness Beyond Life, The Science of the Near-Death Experience by Pim van Lommel M.D.
My full review will follow once I finish it but the chapter on children and near-death experiences (NDEs) led me to look up one of the papers mentioned in the book.
The first systematic study of NDE’s during childhood was published by Melvin Morse, a paediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, in 1985 *
Morse et al examined a group of 42 paediatric patients between 3 and 16 years of age. He separated them into two groups: a critically ill group (4 cardiac arrests, 2 severe trauma, a near-drowning, and one hyperosmolar coma), and a seriously ill group (epiglottitis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, pneumonia or surgical cardiac procedures).
Six of the children in the seriously ill group who spent time in the ICU, were ventilated and likely treated with narcotics, benzodiazepines and anaesthetic agents.
Of this initial group, 13 children were interviewed. Interviews were conducted at least two months after discharge from the hospital. Both parents and children were asked open-ended questions about their memories of the time during hospitalisation.
Here is a summary of some of the interviews with patients in the critically ill group.
Interestingly, NONE of the patients in the seriously ill group reported any memories of the time they were unconscious. (I do notice though that several of the reports in the first group are via the parents).
The authors write that both groups were subjected to sensory deprivation and stresses of time in an ICU as well as experiencing mechanical ventilator support and treatment with anaesthetic and narcotic agents.
To read the complete interviews, go check out the original paper.
Link to the original paper here (PDF).
A 16-year-old boy required several minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation during bypass surgery was interviewed 4 years after a successful recovery. He stated that he had no memory of the operation, but the parents (both devout Mormons) reported that after surgery he told them:
“I have a wonderful secret to tell you. I have been halfway to heaven…..I was on a dark staircase and I climbed upwards”
A 6-year-old boy required 3 minutes of chest compressions for cardiac arrest after induction of anaesthesia pre tonsillectomy. He was interviewed 2 years later and stated that he had left his body and hovered above the operating table.
“The patient’s next memory was that of travelling in a long tunnel that was lined with brightly coloured lights of every hue, similar to “aeroplane landing lights”. He felt very peaceful. He specifically stated that he did not know where the tunnel went, why he was in it, how he came to return to his body, or any other details.
An 11-year-old girl had a cardiopulmonary arrest following home dialysis. She was given several minutes of CPR. She had no memory of her cardiac arrest when interviewed 5 years later but her mother (a devout Christian) reported that shortly afterwards her daughter told her “she had dreamed she was in a classroom and was scolded for doing something wrong”.
An 8-year-old girl with diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar coma became unresponsive in the hospital waiting room and remained obtunded for one day. When interviewed she remembered being on an examination table in the ED and then floating above her body looking down at two doctors. She then remembered being on a bed in the ICU. “Her school class and her teacher were gathered around her and were singing songs and wishing her well”.
Her final memory was described reluctantly after initially saying she couldn’t remember anything else. She drew a picture saying that there were several male figures behind her. “She was afraid to look at them, but did once, and described them as being doctors dressed in white. They told her to press a red button on a box at her bedside. The patient knew this would be wrong, so she pressed a green button instead, and then regained consciousness. She did not know why it was wrong to press the red button, nor did she know why she was afraid to look at the doctors.”
The rest of the paper goes on to compare some of the recorded clinical observations of the patient during the time of the NDEs (for example blood gasses and blood results) against some of the physiological explanations that are proposed for the NDE.
These include, alterations in brain function due to hypoxia or hypercarbia or the effects of drugs given during the resuscitative process.
Morse concludes: “An analysis of our study population could not produce support for any of these physiological mechanisms […] It is unclear whether these experiences are an artifact of physiological events at the point of near death, or perhaps represent a natural developmental of psychological process associated with dying.”
* Dr Morse’s Wikipedia page makes interesting reading.
In 2012 his medical licence was suspended and he was arrested (along with his wife) on charges of child endangerment following allegations made by his then 11 year old stepdaughter. He was convicted and sentenced to serve 3 years in prison. The step daughter was later proved to have lied on the witness stand in a previous case sending her sister to juvenile prison for a year.
Dr Morse was released and the suspension of his medical licence subsequently lifted.
He went on publish several books on the topic of NDE’s and to co-found “The Recidivism Prevention Group, a company dedicated to assisting addicts and former inmates in developing spiritual understandings to re-enter society as productive members”.
Main photo by National Cancer Institute
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