Scientists Validate Near-Death Experiences

When a car plowed into the vehicle in which she was riding, Leslie's chest was crushed, eight bones were broken and her heart stopped beating for three minutes. Before she was revived, she says she glimpsed the afterlife.

"My next experience was really lying on the ground outside of the car, and it was actually an out-of-body experience that I had," says Leslie, who declined to give her last name. "I was actually floating above my body, and I looked down, and I saw all these men working on this poor girl who was down below, about eight feet below me, and she was struggling."

An estimated 7 million people have reported hauntingly similar "near-death" experiences. And a new study in the British medical journal Lancet gives credence to such accounts, concluding they are valid.

Scientists Study Near-Death Experiences

ABCNEWS' Medical Editor Dr. Tim Johnson says this study lends more credibility to the possibility that these near-death accounts are accurate because the researchers conducted the interviews soon after the experiences occurred. The study does not provide a way to scientifically measure whether or not there is life after death, however.

The study reported in Lancet looked at 344 patients in the Netherlands who were successfully resuscitated after suffering cardiac arrest in 10 Dutch hospitals.

Rather than using data from people reporting past near-death experiences, researchers talked to patients within a week after they had suffered clinical deaths and been resuscitated. (Clincical death was defined as a period of unconsciousness caused by insufficient blood supply to the brain.)

About 18 percent of the patients in the study reported being able to recall some portion of what happened when they were clinically dead; and 8 to 12 percent reported going through "near-death" experiences, such as seeing lights at the end of tunnels, or being able to speak to dead relatives or friends. Most had excellent recall of the events, which undermines the theory that the memories are false, the study said.

"We don't even begin to have the tools to debate the subject on a rational scientific basis," Johnson told Good Morning America. "I don't think our belief on afterlife is defined on a cause of the brain." Johnson, who serves as assisting minister of the Community Covenant Church in West Peabody, Mass., said belief in the afterlife remains primarily a matter of personal faith.

Brain Down, Consciousness On?

Lead researcher Pim van Lommel of the Hospital Rijnstate in the Netherlands said the study suggests that researchers investigating consciousness should not look in the cells and molecules alone.

Even when the brain is not showing signs of electrical activity, it is possible that a person can still be conscious, he said. In other words, people can be conscious of events around them even when they are physically unconscious.

"Compare it with a TV program," he told The Washington Post. "If you open the TV set you will not find the program. The TV set is a receiver. When you turn off your TV set, the program is still there but you can't see it. When you put off your brain, your consciousness is still there but you can't feel it in your body."

Many people describe seeing their own bodies from a distance, as though watching a movie. Others say they felt their bodies rushing toward a brilliant light.

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