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For over twenty years psychiatrist Grof has been using LSD to treat the psychological problems of terminal cancer patients. In recent years, anthropologist Halifax has become his co-therapist. Their ongoing work has led to this book: a decidedly mixed blessing. In examining the considerable practical benefits of ""psychedelic therapy"" for the dying and the insights thus obtained about alleviating the dying process, the book could be of inestimable importance; but the writers have used their formidably detailed case-histories to launch a theory about the survival of consciousness after death that may induce skepticism towards their clinical accomplishments. The survival theory derives largely from the ""Death-Rebirth Experience""--one of four characteristic stages vividly recounted by their patients. This, buttressed by the religious beliefs of other--mainly Eastern--cultures, occasions the claim that ""It seems to be quite plausible that consciousness and awareness are essentially independent of the gross matter of the body and brain, and will continue beyond the point of physical demise."" This hypothesis isn't persuasive because the authors fail to dispel three major objections: the preponderant scientific evidence indicates that consciousness is dependent on the brain and nervous system which cease at death. Second, owing to intense survival impulses and to the hallucinogens, the testimony of the patients on which the theory rests is less than perfectly reliable. Finally, the patients' accounts of their ""death experience"" are necessarily projected, not experiential--a factor too frequently undifferentiated by the writers. What the Grof and Halifax study compellingly suggests is that with proper psychiatric attention LSD can be an effective analgesic and a means of dramatically abating the anxieties of the dying patient. That might have made a separate, and sounder book.

Pub Date: May 20th, 1977
Publisher: Dutton