Groundbreaking study of near-death experiences by renowned cardiologist

A Dutch hospital cardiologist’s best-selling study of NDEs is now available in English.

From 1977 to 2003, Dr. Pim van Lommel (b.1943) worked as a cardiologist at the Rijnstate Hospital, an 800-bed teaching hospital in Arnhem in the Netherlands. He published several professional papers on cardiology, and, in September 2006, he received a Life Time Achievement Award at the World Congress on Clinical and Preventive Cardiology in New Delhi.

During his career, Dr. van Lommel became increasingly struck by the number of his patients who claimed to have had near-death experiences (NDEs) as a result of their heart attacks.

As a scientist, he found this difficult to accept. But then, wouldn’t it be scientifically irresponsible of him to ignore the evidence of these stories?

Faced with this dilemma, in 1986 Dr. van Lommel decided to design a research study to investigate the phenomenon under the controlled environment of a cluster of hospitals with a medically trained staff. This research has continued for more than twenty years.

Consciousness and the Near-Death Experience

In four studies of cardiac arrest survivors reported by Dr. van Lommel, between 11% and 18% of the 562 patients reported a near-death experience. Neither the cause nor the content of these experiences could be explained by physiological, psychological, pharmacological or demographic factors.

According to our current medical concepts, it isn’t even possible to experience consciousness during a cardiac arrest. When you have a heart attack, your circulation and breathing stop and you have a flatline brainwave.

Yet many cardiac arrest patients report the paradoxical experience of enhanced consciousness — with cognitive functions, with emotions, with self-identity, with memories from early childhood and sometimes with (extra-sensory) perception out and above their lifeless body, and often involving experiences of a dimension beyond our normal concept of time and space.

In an interview, Dr. van Lommel gives the following example:

There was a man who had a heart attack and came into the hospital cyanotic, or blue, from lack of oxygen.

First, they had to intubate him, and his nurse, a male, had to take out his dentures and put them on the crash cart before intubating him. They had to work on him for 90 minutes before they succeeded in restoring blood pressure and heart rhythm. He still was in a coma and he had brain damage, because the lack of oxygen causes a functional loss in the brain, which is reversible if you can resuscitate someone in the first five to 10 minutes. He was still in a coma after a week, which means totally unconscious without any reflexes.

But when he regained consciousness and saw the nurse come in to give him medication, he said,”Oh you’re the one who took out my dentures and put them in the drawer in that funny cart.” The nurse was totally flabbergasted and practically had a near- death experience himself. The patient also described the people in the room, and said, “I was desperately trying to contact you to say, ‘Please go on, because if you stop trying to help me, I will die.'”

But like other people who’ve had near- death experiences, though he could perceive what was happening and ” hear” what was happening through thought transfer, he could not communicate.

In Dr. van Lommel’s opinion, the current views on the relationship between the brain and consciousness held by most physicians, philosophers, and psychologists are too narrow for a proper understanding of the NDE phenomenon. He believes the research shows that consciousness does not always coincide with brain functions and that consciousness can actually be experienced separate from the body.

Dr. van Lommel has come to the conclusion that the brain does not produce consciousness, as science currently believes, but instead plays a facilitating role in conscious experience. Consciousness is already ‘there’. The brain merely shapes its experience.

By making a scientific case for consciousness as ‘nonlocal’, and thus a ubiquitous phenomenon, Dr. van Lommel questions the materialist paradigm in science.


In 2001, Dr. van Lommel and his fellow researchers published the results of their study on near-death experiences in the renowned medical journal The Lancet.[1] The article caused an international sensation as it was believed to be the first scientifically rigorous study of the NDE phenomenon.

[1] Van Lommel, W., Van Wees, R., Meyers, V. & Elfferich, I. (2001) Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands. Lancet 358: 2039-2045.

In 2007, Dr. van Lommel published a book about the research in Dutch: Eindeloos Bewustzijn: een wetenschappelijke visie op de Bijna-Dood Ervaring (Endless Consciousness: a scientific approach to the near-death experience). This book was a bestseller: within one year over 100,000 books were sold in the Netherlands, and it was also nominated for The Best Book of 2008.

Now, in 2010, it has been published in the English language by HarperCollins, entitled: Consciousness Beyond Life, The Science of the Near-Death Experience.

In Consciousness Beyond Life, Dr. van Lommel presents his scientific evidence that the near-death phenomenon is an authentic experience that cannot be attributed to imagination, psychosis, or oxygen deprivation. He further reveals that after such a profound experience, most patients’ personalities undergo a permanent change. Having followed surviving patients for several years, his research has found that those who had had a near-death experience became happier, more altruistic, less afraid of death and less materialistic.

Today, Dr. Pim van Lommel lectures all over the world on near-death experiences and the relationship between consciousness and brain function. He is one of a growing number of medical and scientific professionals who have ‘come out’ in rejecting the materialistic explanation of NDEs. See also, for example, Physician says near-death experiences are evidence for life after death.

I heard of someone who had a NDE lecturing about it in the United States, and someone stood up and said, “I’ve been a cardiologist for 25 years and I’ve never heard a story like this. This is total nonsense.” And someone else in the audience stood up and said, “I’m one of your patients. I had such an experience and you’re the last guy I would tell about it because you’re so skeptical.” — Dr. van Lommel

Further Reading

For more of my posts about near-death experiences, here’s an index:

1 thought on “Groundbreaking study of near-death experiences by renowned cardiologist

  1. Although the connection is obscured by the drama of the circumstances under which they occur, according to the author near death experiences are another form of mystic episodes.

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