Near-Death Experiences and the Doctors

Ever since the awareness of near-death experiences burst upon the popular consciousness with the publication of Raymond Moody’s 1975 bestseller Life After Life, there has been a steady stream of books, articles, and movies on the subject. These have come from people in all professions and all walks of life.

More recently, several medical doctors have weighed in on the subject.

Doctors are in an interesting position. On the one hand, since near-death experiences commonly take place during medical emergencies, doctors are often present when people have them. On the other hand, because of their extensive scientific training doctors are often skeptical that near-death experiences are anything other than the desperate hallucinations of a dying, oxygen-deprived brain.

But when the doctors themselves have a near-death experience, they come out with a very different perspective.

Dr. Oz interviews Dr. Mary Neal

Here is the famous Dr. Mehmet Oz (a reader of Emanuel Swedenborg) interviewing another physician, Dr. Mary Neal, about Dr. Neal’s near-death experience, which took place during a white-water kayaking accident:

To Heaven and Back, by Mary C. Neal, M.D.

Before she nearly died by drowning, Dr. Neal more-or-less believed in God and heaven . . . but she really didn’t have time to pay them much heed. That all changed due to her other-world experience while she was trapped underwater, not breathing, for a quarter of an hour.

Here is the book she wrote about her near-death experience and how it radically changed her perspective on life:

To Heaven and Back
A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again
A True Story

Erasing Death, by Sam Parnia, M.D.

Though Dr. Sam Parnia has not himself had a near-death experience, he is becoming known as one of the few scientists interested in studying death itself, including near-death experiences, from a scientific perspective. In 2007 he published the book, What Happens When We Die? A Groundbreaking Study into the Nature of Life and Death.

This year he has published a follow-up book. Its most startling assertion: death is nowhere near as cut-and-dried, nor as final, as we have generally believed up to now. Here is a recent interview with Dr. Parnia in which he summarizes some of his findings:

And here is the first part of a talk given by Dr. Parnia about near-death experiences:

Dr. Parnia’s new book is:

Erasing Death
The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death

Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander, M.D.

Neurosurgion Eben Alexander did not believe in any afterlife . . . until he experienced it for himself. A rare and deadly form of meningitis shut down his brain and put him in a coma for a week. The doctors were giving up on him and considering ending his treatment when he suddenly opened his eyes, much to everyone’s astonishment.

After making a near-miraculous full recovery he set about telling his amazing story, which was published last year. This brief but powerful interview summarizes what he experienced:

And here is the book he published about it:

Proof of Heaven:
A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife

Is there really “proof” of heaven? Of course, the skeptics will say no. Yet for those whose minds are open and willing to hear the testimony of these highly rational, intelligent, and scientifically trained physicians, there is enough evidence to come to a more positive conclusion about the afterlife.

Dr. Lee Woofenden

Okay, I’m not a doctor, medical or otherwise . . . and I haven’t had a near-death experience either. But since this is my blog, here’s a book I wrote and published about near-death experiences, the afterlife, and our process of spiritual rebirth right here on earth:

Death and Rebirth
From Near-Death Experiences to Eternal Life

For more on what happens after we die, and after we move beyond the brief introduction to heaven experienced by people who have close brushes with death, I invite you to read my previous article: What Happens To Us When We Die?

See also: Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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10 comments on “Near-Death Experiences and the Doctors
  1. I have never had a near death experience, but a close friend shared her NDE with me in 1969, before NDEs were first written about. When I heard about others having these NDEs many years later, the uncanny similarity of these stories to my friend’s story changed my life. I knew my friend did not receive any input from anyone else. Through these stories, I absolutely knew, beyond any doubt, that there is more to life than the physical particles and physical forces that make up our universe.

    Even if Dr. Parnia’s research project does not confirm his hypothesis (I think it will), I know his thesis is correct. The ultimate conclusion I draw for all this is that consciousness does not depend on the body — it continues after the death of the body. Our individual consciousness is eternal.

    This is a very nice article, Lee. Nice work!

    Chuck Gebhardt, MD

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chuck,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I vividly remember the excitement among my fellow Swedenborg readers back in 1975 when Life After Life came out. Suddenly we no longer felt like a lone voice proclaiming in the wilderness that the afterlife is very real, and that it is very different from what the churches had been teaching. I attended one of Dr. Moody’s early talks at our former Boston congregation, which was packed to the gills. The atmosphere in the crowd was electric!


  2. Dawn says:

    Thanks for the links!! I have never had a NDE but I want to learn EVERYTHING about them!

  3. Chris Beach says:

    I heard a talk on this subject recently and found it fascinating! In the talk the speaker mentioned one of the newest books out on the subject which was compiled by two or more doctors who had had the experiences themselves. They were keen to mention that when the soul left the body and looked down upon the rest of the individuals in the room, they could identify items being lost by physicians and nurses such as pens rolling under a table etc. Do you know the name of the book? Thank you very much!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I don’t know which particular book that would be. Was it any of the ones mentioned in this article? Who was the speaker of the talk you heard? The experiences you mention from the talk are very common. The thing about pens rolling under the table is just the sort of vivid little detail that makes it unlikely that the experiencers are making this up.

      • Chris Beach says:

        I agree about the vivid little detail. The person giving the talk was Fr. Spitzer of Gonzaga University. He is a world renowned speaker,and theologian.

        Sent from my iPhone

  4. Ben Williams says:

    Great article, with interesting and relevant links. My father had a Near death experience, and so too did a girl I once knew. The consistency of themes is very strong evidence supporting the reality of this experience.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

      I’ve listened to a number of people tell the stories of their near-death experiences. Really, the simplest explanation is that there actually is another, spiritual plane of existence to which our conscious mind goes after death.

      Only a resistance to the idea of a spiritual realm causes people to attempt to come up with other explanations. But none of the alternate explanations I’ve encountered so far does a reasonable job of accounting for the phenomenon of NDEs as reported by thousands, if not millions of people.

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