You might remember the 1990 thriller Flatliners, in which medical students try to find out if there’s life after death by stopping their own hearts.
Right now, scientists are for the same answers but in a safer way, after hearing the wealth of anecdotal evidence from people who say they were aware of events around them, even though they were technically dead at the time.
The moment the heart stops beating is typically used by doctors to define the moment of death, according to Sam Parnia, a doctor at New York University.
Parnia told Live Science that once the heart stops beating, oxygen-carrying blood stops going to the brain, and brain function, including thought, stops soon after. Within 20 seconds, no brainwaves will usually show on an electrical monitor, Parnia explained.
So Parnia and his colleagues started the largest ever study of people in the US and Europe who’d suffered a cardiac arrest – which is not the same as a heart attack – and were revived, and who reported having had ‘out of body’ experiences during that time.
“They’ll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they’ll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them,” he told Live Science, adding that their recollections had been verified by medical staff who were in the room at the time.
The scientists want to find out exactly how much oxygen reaches the brain during the time of death and revival, when the ‘thought’ part of the brain actually comes back to life and how that looks when brain activity is monitored.
They want to learn how the experiences of people who report having had consciousness after they were ‘dead’ are related to their actual brain activity.
They’re also looking for better methods of monitoring the brain beyond the threshold of death, Live Science reported, and improving resuscitation techniques to better prevent brain injury.
As The Sun noted, some people have been recorded as having brain activity for up to 10 minutes after life support was removed.
Meanwhile, a remake of Flatliners was released in cinemas in the US at the end of September. But Rotten Tomatoes, the review site, gave the new film an approval rating of just 5 per cent, with critics saying that it didn’t improve on the 1990 original.