Examining Reports of Near-death Experiences

Review of: Greyson B: “Consistency of near-death experience accounts over two decades: Are reports embellished over time?” Resuscitation. 73(3):407-411, 2007.

The Science

The author of this paper had the opportunity to question 117 individuals who had a near death experience (NDE). He interviewed them in the 1980’s and had them complete a questionnaire with an NDE scale. At the time of the first questionnaire, they averaged 49 years of age; their NDE occurred an average of 17 years previously. Two decades later, he made contact with the 79 individuals who were still living and had them complete the questionnaire again.

This questionnaire, which has been well validated, examines four factors. The NDE scale consists of 16 multiple-choice items comprising four factors. The first factor addresses cognitive processes, including accelerated thought processes and a “life review.” The second addresses such affective processes such as intense feelings of peace and joy. The third factor addresses such purportedly paranormal processes as a sensation of being “out of the body.” The fourth addresses experiences of transcendence such as encounters with what are interpreted as religious figures.

The NDE scale has high internal consistency, split-half reliability, six-month test — retest reliability and correlation with prior measures of near-death experience. Each of its 16 items differentiates independently close brushes with death with and without near-death experiences. A recent Rasch rating-scale analysis established that the NDE scale yields a uni-dimensional measure with interval-scaling properties that differentiates near-death experiences qualitatively and quantitatively from other responses to the threat of death.

He concluded that contrary to expectation, accounts of near-death experiences — particularly reports of their positive effect — were not embellished over a period of almost two decades. These data support the reliability of near-death experience accounts.

The Street

Not to make light of the subject of near-death experiences during Halloween, I found this article very interesting and consistent with my Zen philosophy that there is indeed something beyond this materialistic world.

We should take such studies seriously and modify our behavior around the dead and nearly dead patient. They hear us, and accounts of their experiences appear to be credible. This sounds spooky to some, but for me it reinforces the need to be compassionate with our patients during their passage from this life to the next.
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