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Near-death experiences: evidence of afterlife

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Many people who have come close to dying report having had a near-death experience (NDE). An NDE is a lucid experience associated with perceived consciousness apart from the body occurring at the time of actual or threatened imminent death. NDEs typically encompass several sensations, including being outside one’s physical body, feelings of peace and joy, and moving in a tunnel toward a loving bright light.

Compelling evidence for the validity of NDEs from medical studies of thousands of NDEs includes: (1) confirmed observations of the physical world when unconscious or during clinical death (2) blind people seeing during an NDE (3) meeting previously unknown deceased relatives during an NDE and (4) the dramatically changed lives of people who have had an NDE.

Some patients find themselves outside of their unconscious physical bodies and are able visually to observe earthly events or objects — sometimes hundreds of miles away — that were later verified by third parties to be accurate. This phenomenon indicates that consciousness can exist apart from the physical body. It is difficult to believe that this high degree of verifiably accurate reporting, which typically occurred at a time when there was no electrical activity in the brain, could be caused by psychological or physiological factors. Since the self-consciousness that accompanied these veridical perceptions is independent of bodily function, it is reasonable to conclude that our consciousness remains alive after death of the body.

For example, cardiologist Dr. Michael Sabom reports the case of singer Pam Reynolds. In order to remove a life-threatening aneurysm deep in her brain, Pam Reynolds underwent a rare surgical operation called a "standstill" in which her body temperature was lowered to 60 degrees, her heartbeat and breathing stopped, her brain waves flattened, and the blood drained from her head. In everyday terms, she was dead. Dr. Robert Spetzler, her surgeon, was sawing into her skull when Pam suddenly heard the saw and began observing the surgical procedure from a vantage point over his shoulder. She also heard what the nurses said to the doctors. Upon returning to consciousness, she was able to accurately describe the unique surgical instrument used and the statements made by the nurses.

Studies also show that 80 percent of blind people who had an NDE are able to see things during their clinical death that are later verified by others as being accurate. These experiences offer compelling evidence of the afterlife, since blind people are obviously not "seeing" with their useless physical eyes, but through the upgraded "eyes" of a spiritual body that does not have the limitations of their physical body.

Many people, including children, report meeting deceased relatives during an NDE, including relatives they had not known before but are able to later identify (e.g., from old family photographs). Children are more likely to report meeting a deceased grandparent than a living parent. This indicates that their NDE was not based on wishful thinking because children would be expected to meet living relatives, such as their father or mother, in a dream or hallucination.

Studies also show that nearly all those who had an NDE report their lives, religious beliefs, values and behaviors are significantly changed afterward. Many people say their NDE transformed their views of what really matters in life and that they have lost their fear of death. They typically have a much stronger belief in God and the afterlife because they are convinced they were there. They also report having less interest in material things, such as money, big houses or expensive cars. Studies show that these life changes are permanent and longlasting.

The combined weight of this scholarly evidence affirms that there is a component of human beings that is not reducible to our mere physical body. This immaterial and spiritual part of our being has traditionally been called our soul and is linked to human consciousness. As stated by Dr. Pim van Lommel, "Until now, the concept was that the brain is the producer of consciousness and the producer of memories. But when you study near-death experiences, we have to reconsider this concept: perhaps we should consider the brain not as a producer, but as a receiver of consciousness."

The evidence from medical studies of NDEs affirms church teachings that human beings are composed of both a body and a soul, and that the soul lives on after death of the body. NDEs also support the reality of an afterlife that transcends physical death and is usually a very pleasant experience, much like what has been called heaven. However, some NDEs point to the existence of a hellish afterlife.

Hemler is president of the Catholic Apologetics Institute of North America.

Find out more

An online Lenten apologetics retreat series, organized by the Catholic Apologetics Institute of North America, will be held March 7, 14 and 21, 8-9:30 p.m. Register, caina.cmax.tv.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021