A pioneer in the field of critical-care medicine poses the profound question: “What does the recovery of consciousness after the complete cessation of heartbeat and brain function” tell us about the relationship between the mind and body in the process of dying?
With the assistance of Young (co-author, with Howie Mandel: Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me, 2009, etc.), Cornell Medical Center doctor Parnia (What Happens When We Die, 2005, etc.) explains that modern medicine now has the potential to bring people back to life after they have suffered cardiac arrest and ensure that they do not suffer brain damage as a result. Using the space program as a model, Parnia suggests the need for a global effort to ensure optimal standards of care available to everyone. He reviews the development of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and up-to-date treatments using mechanical compression devices, cooling body temperature to slow the process of cell decay and administering drugs to increase blood pressure. The problem is that most medical professionals are not technically trained on the most advanced practices, and hospitals are under financial pressure to limit CPR. Nonetheless, Parnia is optimistic that such innovations as direct intravenous infusion of oxygen molecules will cheapen costs. Since it is now possible to resuscitate people who would previously have been pronounced dead, the question then arises: When does death occur? Death is not an event, writes the author, but a process that is sometimes reversible. This idea leads him to question the implications of near-death or after-death experiences. While they do not in themselves substantiate any religious beliefs, there are too many documented cases to be ignored. People from diverse cultures who hold different religious beliefs, including atheism, describe many common features, such as seeing a bright light and a guiding figure, and out-of-body experiences.
A fascinating discussion that addresses medical, moral and social issues and their implications for understanding consciousness, self-awareness and the soul.