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A hospital doctor has undertaken the “largest ever scientific study” of near-death experiences and concludes that it provides evidence for life after death.
Radiation oncologist Dr. Jeffrey Long, based in Houma, Louisiana, has drawn on some 1,300 accounts of near-death experiences reported on a website. He makes the case for his conclusion in a new book written with Paul Perry, Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences (HarperCollins, 2010).
Through their work at the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, Dr. Long and his wife Jody have gathered thousands of accounts of near death experiences (NDE) from all over the world. In addition to sharing the personal narrative of their experience, visitors to the website are asked to fill out a 100 item questionnaire designed to isolate specific elements of the experience and to red flag any counterfeit accounts. These are maintained at the NDERF website.
Currently the database contains over 1,600 NDE accounts regarded as “legitimate”, far more than any other NDE research database in the world. The people whose stories are captured in the database span all age groups, races, and religious affiliations and come from all over the world, yet the similarities in their stories are as awe-inspiring as they are inexplicable.
Typically, people who have had a near-death experience report some or all of the following:
- floating above their dead or dying body as a disembodied consciousness;
- being drawn to a bright light, perhaps through a tunnel;
- being immersed in light and love, or being greeted by beings of light and love, sometimes identified as spirit guides, angels or simply God;
- meeting deceased friends and relatives;
- reviewing the events of the life just lived, understanding its purpose and the impact on others;
- seeing a symbolic landmark, such as a bridge, representing the point of no return;
- being told “It is not your time yet,” or being given the choice to either stay in the afterlife or return to Earth life;
- on returning to life, enjoying very positive psychological after-effects.
Medicine, says Dr. Long (below), cannot account for the consistencies in the accounts reported by people all over the world. Such consisteny cannot be chalked up simply to neurological reactions to medication or “everyone having seen the same Hollywood movie.”
One might argue that the “stereotypical” near-death experience is now so well known that people are just reporting what they believe the researchers want to hear. However, this does nto appear to be the case. Interviewed on MSNBC’s Today programme, Dr. Long argues:
I think if near-death experiences were culturally determined, then people that had never heard of near-death experiences would have a different experience. But we’re not finding that. Whether you know or don’t know about near-death experiences at the time it happens, it has no effect on whether the experience happens or not, or what the content is.
One line of evidence to come out of the research, for example, is the fact that even congenitally blind people have the same sorts of visual experiences as everyone else. (See for example this video.)
In an interview with Time magazine, Long says that a near-death experience has two components:
The person has to be near death, which means physically compromised so severely that permanent death would occur if they did not improve: they’re unconscious, or often clinically dead, with an absence of heartbeat and breathing. The second component [is that] at the time they’re having a close brush with death, they have an experience. [It is] generally lucid [and] highly organized.
Hundreds of research articles have been written over the last 35 years about the NDE. Long notes that there have been at least 20 “rational” explanations for the NDE put forward by skeptics. Not one of them is consistent with the gamut of actual evidence, however.
Long describes how this research has affected him personally:
I’m a physician who fights cancer. In spite of our best efforts, not everybody is going to be cured. My absolute understanding that there is an afterlife for all of us — and a wonderful afterlife — helps me face cancer, this terribly frightening and threatening disease, with more courage than I’ve ever faced it with before. I can be a better physician for my patients.
All religions the world over share a belief in the afterlife. Traditionally, this belief has had to be taken on faith. As the scientific evidence from NDEs accumulates, this may no longer be the case. Hoever, this does not, in itself, validate the teachings of any particular religion. Evidence of life after death does not, for example, prove that sinners go to Hell. Indeed, the evidence provided by NDEs actually contradicts many religious conceptions of the afterlife.
The collection of NDEs on Dr. Long’s NDERF website is well worth a look, and is a great contribution to the accumulation of evidence for the fact that, whatever our human personalities, we are all eternal spiritual beings.
- Dr. Jeffrey Long and clinical psychologist Mary Jo Rapini (NDE experiencer) are interviewed on the Today show.
- Main article on MSNBC’s Today website, including further interview with Mary Jo Rapini.
- Here is Dr. Long’s Near Death Experience Research Foundation website – be warned, it’s a little garish.
- Excerpt from the first chapter of Evidence of the Afterlife
- Dr. Long talks to Time magazine
- Amazon link to Evidence of the Afterlife
For more of my posts about near-death experiences, here’s an index: