Pediatrician Dr. Melvin Morse offers this 8-week series in response to the inquiry of one of his young patients, Chris E. The eight-year old asked Dr. Morse after having an NDE: “But is it real?”
Chris E., age 8, asked me if his recent experience of going first to animal heaven, then human heaven, encountering a bumblebee who gave him bread, hearing heavenly music and then returning to his body was “real.”
My team of intensive-care unit physicians and nurses had just resuscitated him after he had been trapped in the back seat of his family’s car after it flipped over a guardrail and plunged into icy cold waters. He was underwater for over 45 minutes, yet made a complete recovery.
He told me that during the time that we thought he was dead, he was going through a “huge noodle” to heaven. Then he scrunched up his face and had a weird look as he said, “Well, it couldn’t have been a noodle, it must have been a tunnel because noodles don’t have rainbows in them. He again said, “But was it real? Because if (what happened to me) was real, then you have to tell all the old people!”
As children often do, Chris quickly cut through all the noise and mental machinations about these experiences and asked the question that we all have:
Are these experiences real?
Can we trust the information contained in them? Is there really a loving God awaiting us all when we die?
Does consciousness persist past the death of the brain and body?
Another child alluded to this fundamental question when she told me of her near-death experience: “ I wasn’t dead (during the time she was clinically dead), I wasn’t dead at all. I was alive! Some part of me was alive.”
As a medical scientist and intensive-care unit pediatrician, my bias has always been that these experiences are not real, but are artifacts of the dying brain or inventions of the mind after recovery to consciousness. I have always been taught that not only is science separate from spirituality, but that they are at odds with each other.
I felt personally motivated to do all I could to answer Chris’s question about whether or not near-death experiences were real.
At the time, I was a critical care physician working at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington. I was a flight physician for Airlift Norwest. We resuscitated hundreds of critically ill children. Although Raymond Moody’ s classic Life After Life had been published, there was not at that time any scientific proof that near-death experiences are real, nor had there been any serious scientific research into the experiences. After 25 years of scientifically studying the near-death experience, I have concluded that the scientific evidence documents that near-death experiences are real.
My research team published the first prospective scientific study of near death experiences in the American Medical Association’s pediatric journals. Our research was replicated by the Dutch cardiologist Pim Van Lommel’s work which he published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. Our research scientists at the University of Washington have published in The Lancet, the American Journal of Diseases of Children, prestigious hematology oncology journals, and numerous other peer-reviewed scientific journals and medical publications.
Our brain is a spiritual instrument and the science of spirituality is the textbook of how to properly play it. Once we understand the science especially the neuroscience of spiritual experiences in general, we learn that not only are they very real and strongly imply the existence of God but they also teach us how to be more fully human. After all, the near death experience is simply the spiritual experience that we will all have when we die. This understanding of the dying process was first published by Depasqualle and Phillips in the American Heart Association’s journal in 1966.
Now, fifty years later we are finally learning the science that documents that the spiritual experiences of the dying are real. Furthermore, the neuroscience of spirituality developed in studying the near-death experience implies that all spiritual experiences are also just as real. What exactly is this research that documents that NDEs are real?
It comes from numerous disciplines and in many different research arenas. They broadly are as follows:
1. Anecdotal studies such as Chris E.’s story that document what exactly people experience during the dying process. This would include the ground breaking research of Raymond Moody. These anecdotes are often the most powerful evidence of the realness of the NDE as they contain elements of the experience that could only be present if the experiences are real, such as obtaining information that could only occur if the person were out of their body.
2. Sociological and statistical analysis of collections of accounts. This would include the work of Dr. Ken Ring, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Connecticut.
3. Prospective research studies of dying patients: These include our research from the University of Washington and Pim Van Lommel’s work at the University of Ultrech.
4. Neuroscientific studies of the brain that include our work with Vernon Neppe at the University of Washington, Mario Beauregard’s research at Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University and Andrew Newberg’s work at Thomas Jefferson University.
5.Recent advances in neuroscience’s understanding of brain function.
6. Research from theoretical physics with regards to the definition of the word “real.”
7. Neuroanatomical research going back over 100 years including the work of Wilder Penfied, the father of modern neuroscience.
8.Direct laboratory-based experimental proof that NDEs are real.
Over the coming weeks and months, I will review each aspect of the scientific proof that NDEs are real, illustrated with stories, pictures and videos of children’s experiences.
Invite all the old people you know to join me in my review of my journey into the science of the near-death experience, its implication for spiritual experiences in general, and what they teach us about both living and dying.
NEXT WEEK: Stories of children’s experience which contain proof within them that NDEs are real. I will discuss Jamie U.’s drawing of her near-death experience that is included at the top of this blog. It has numerous elements in it which could only be drawn by her if she truly was out of her body. It also contains the sort of powerful and simple spiritual insights that are so common to the child’s near-death experience.
ONE LAST NOTE: I am so grateful to have had the privilege of hearing these children’s NDE accounts. Typically, children whose accounts I share are those with whom I was personally involved in resuscitating from clinical death. I feel a great obligation to write about their experiences. They are sacred stories of the divine aspects of living and dying.
I well understand that once these stories have been told and retold, they can at times lose their credibility, the farther from the source they get.For example, Chris told me at first, “I was in a huge noodle.”
Clearly that is not something he learned from other near-death experiences. Yet as he told and retold his story, he then used the word “tunnel” to describe the beginning of his experience. Understanding the subtleties of how facts can sometimes become blurred, is an important part of rigorous inquiry.
I am so honored and grateful that I was able to hear his very first stumbling awkward description as he struggled to explain the unexplainable. As I was able to be hear these accounts first hand, I can offer the children’s authentic stories. I hope you will find them as enlightening as I do.
Melvin was voted by his peers as one of “America’s Best Doctors” in 1997–1998, 2001–2002, and 2005–2006. He has published numerous scientific articles in medical journals over the course of his thirty-year career as well as a number of bestselling books, including his best known Closer to the Light. Morse has appeared on radio and television programs to discuss his extensive research on NDEs in children.
Morse practiced pediatrics in Renton, Washington for 20 years. He retired from the full-time practice of pediatrics in 2006. In 2007, Morse became the Research Director of the Institute for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ISSC) founded by Charles Tart in 1979. While Director of ISSC, he was awarded the Warcollier International Prize for consciousness research in 2011.
Melvin has written five books Closer to the Light, Transformed by the Light, and Parting Visions, Where God Lives and he co-authored Spiritual Sight with psychic medium Isabelle Chauffeton Saavedra. He is currently doing research into the applications of intuition to the medical field using an approach he calls applied remote viewing.