Scientists Probe Brushes With The Afterlife

Religion News Service
UNITED STATES, January 2011: Wanda Colie vividly remembers what she saw in 1984 when, at age 28, a condition that produced blood in her lungs nearly killed her. The pain vanished and a crowd of familiar faces came to welcome her in a light-drenched valley. For more than two decades, Colie kept her experience secret. But she’s recently joined hundreds of others who’ve started going public with their near-death experiences, or NDEs.
Once dismissed as mere hallucinations, NDEs are being taken more seriously than in the past. Studies published in The Lancet, a respected British medical journal, and the Journal of the American Medical Association have reframed NDEs as phenomena worthy of scientific research.  Last year, three medical doctors published books on new NDE research, including what it suggests about consciousness beyond the brain and even the possibility of afterlife.
The Louisiana-based Near Death Experience Research Foundation, whose database of more than 1,600 NDEs is the world’s largest, added a record 280 new accounts last year — up 35 percent from 2009. The North Carolina-based International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS) has amassed more than 900 accounts at its website and now tracks 46 support groups for people who’ve had NDEs. More NDE accounts means more data to examine and more reliable inferences, according to researchers such as Dr. Jeffrey Long, a Louisiana oncologist whose study of 613 NDEs forms the basis of his 2010 book, “Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences.” As more accounts come to light, researchers are identifying patterns that transcend differences based on age, culture and religious (or nonreligious) backgrounds.

Frequently noted experiences include moving through a tunnel, looking down at one’s own body, reuniting with predeceased loved ones, and being overwhelmed with a sense of love and beauty. “People who have had near-death experiences say death is just the end of our physical aspects, but it’s not the end of who we are,” said Dr. Pim van Lommel, a Dutch cardiologist and author of “Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of Near-Death Experience.” “That is what has been told  in religious traditions. They all have the same message: the essence of who we are is immortal.”

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