Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death by Sam Parnia, Josh Young

Contrary to popular belief, death is not a moment in time, such as when the heart stops beating, respiration ceases, or the brain stops functioning. Death,rather, is a process—a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Innovative techniques, such as drastically reducing thepatient’s body temperature, have proven to be effective in revitalizing both the body andmind, but studies show they are only employedin approximately half of the hospitalsthroughout the United States and Europe.

In Erasing Death, Dr. Sam Parnia presents cutting-edge research from the front line of critical care and resuscitation medicine that has enabled modern doctors to routinely reverse death, while also shedding light on the ultimate mystery: what happens to human consciousness during and after death. Parnia reveals how medical discoveries focused on saving lives have also inadvertently raised the possibility that some form of “afterlife” maybe uniquely ours, as evidenced by the continuation of the human mind and psyche in the first few hours after death. Questions about the “self” and the “soul” that were once relegated to theology, philosophy, or even science fiction are now being examined afresh according to rigorous scientific research.

With physicians such as Parnia at the forefront,we are on the verge of discovering a new universal science of consciousness that reveals the nature of the mind and a future where death is not the final defeat, but is in fact reversible.
Dr Sam Parnia is one of the world’s leading experts on the scientific study of cardiac arrest, death and near-death experiences. He is director of resuscitation research at the State University of New York in Stony Brook, USA and an honorary fellow at Southampton University Hospital in the UK where he received a PhD in cell biology.

He is a former fellow in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York and Hammersmith Hospital in London. Dr Parnia directs a number of international studies focusing on the quality of brain resuscitation following cardiac arrest. His work has featured in many newspapers and magazines all over the world including the Guardian, Telegraph, GQ, Psychology Today, Time, Newsweek, as well as on the BBC and CNN. He also contributes regularly to TV and radio discussions and divides his time between hospitals in the UK and US. He is the author of What Happens When We Die?.

JOSH YOUNG is a best-selling author whose works spans entertainment, business, politics, science and natural history. He has co-authored five New York Times best sellers and two additional national best sellers. He is the co-author of comedian Howie Mandel’s HERE’S THE DEAL: DON’T TOUCH ME; of YOU’RE ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR NEXT ONE with Mike Medavoy; of Dr. Sam Parnia’s ERASING DEATH: THE SCIENCE THAT IS REWRITING THE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, and of THE LINK: UNCOVERING OUR OLDEST ANCESTOR with Colin Tudge, which has been translated into five languages. He is the co-author of entrepreneur/actor Wayne Rogers’ MAKE YOUR OWN RULES: A RENEGADE GUIDE TO UNCONVENTIONAL SUCCESS, and the author of DINO GANGS, the story of renown paleontologist Phil Currie’s quest to uncover the mystery of how dinosaurs behaved.

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Listen here to Terry Gross interview Dr. Sam Parnia here (MP3)


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. What happens when we die – wouldn’t we all like to know? We can’t bring people back from the dead to tell us but in some cases, we almost can. Resuscitation medicine is now sometimes capable of reviving people after their hearts have stopped beating and their brains have flat lined. And some of those people report being conscious during the period after their heart stopped, before they’ve been restarted.

These experiences are popularly known as near-death experiences. But my guest, Dr. Sam Parnia, prefers to call them after-death experiences. He’s a critical-care doctor who is the director of resuscitation research at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. He’s conducting research into optimal cardiac arrest care, and into the experiences some cardiac arrest patients report they have brought back from the other side of death. He says whether these experiences are psychological phenomena or actually happen, they’ve been reported so routinely they warrant further study. Dr. Parnia is the author of the new book “Erasing Death.”

Dr. Sam Parnia, welcome to FRESH AIR. As a doctor who specializes in resuscitation research, what is your interest in what people have experienced after they technically died; after cardiac arrest, when their heart has stopped?

SAM PARNIA: Well, I’ve been interested in this field for many years now. And the reason I got interested, really, was because I had a patient who I had taken care of, who – when I was a medical student, many years ago, now – who I saw essentially die; have a cardiac arrest in front of my eyes, and nothing could be done to save this person. And I remember thinking to myself, what is this person experiencing as they’re going through this period of death?

Now, this was more than 15 years ago, and at that time there was very little work carried out in this field. But as I have begun to grow in this field myself, I have come to realize that we have a very strong need to study what happens to the brain after people die, because R-remed(ph) – a physician like myself, who specializes in resuscitation science – R-remed is to bring people back to life after they’ve died.

And therefore, inadvertently, we have to study what happens to the brain in the minutes to hours after someone’s dead but also, not forgetting that there’s a human being in there; and that they have a consciousness, they have a mind, what classically used to be called the psyche or the soul. And what does that person experience, and what’s it like for them? And that’s why we combine both together.

GROSS: So since we’re talking about what people experience after cardiac arrest, after their heart has stopped, and then they are subsequently revived – so what they experience between the time their heart has stopped, and the time that they’re resuscitated – how has medicine changed the length of time you can be technically dead after cardiac arrest but still be resuscitated?

PARNIA: Traditionally, when somebody died – and that’s true of today – when somebody died it was really the point where the heart has stopped beating. And as a consequence of the heart stopping beating, a person would stop breathing immediately and would lose consciousness immediately. And the reason for that was that there was no blood getting to the brain, and the brain would stop functioning.

So today when we define someone as being dead, we look at those three criteria – no heartbeat, no respirations, and we check the pupils of the eye for a reflex that when it’s absent, it tells us that the brain stem and the brain is no longer functioning. The person is motionless – and they’re dead, and we define them as dead.

However, what we’ve now discovered – in the past decade or so – is that actually, it’s only after a person dies. So in other words, when someone has actually reached that point and they’ve become a corpse, that the cells inside the body start to undergo their own process of death, and that the period in which the cells die is variable depending on the organs, but it certainly goes on to hours of time.

So for instance, brain cells will die at about eight hours; again, there is some variation, but around eight hours after a person has died. And therefore, our work in resuscitation science is to try to study the processes that are going on in a person after they’ve died, but before they’ve reached the point of complete, irreversible and irretrievable cell damage such that no matter what we do, we can’t bring them back.

And if we manage to restore oxygen and nutrients back to those cells before they’ve reached that point, we are able to successfully bring someone back to life. And that’s why today, with numerous advances that have taken place in the field of resuscitation science, we have managed to push back that boundary to well beyond the 10-, 20-minute time frame that had been perceived in the past, into many hours of death.

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Related links to Sam Parnia’s works.

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