Most of us at the very least wonder about our own immortality and many people are convinced that there is something beyond death, beyond the blackness of the grave. In Western Judaeo-Christian culture we absorb from an early age the idea that virtue now has its own reward - later. We are taught that the universe is essentially moral and that there are absolute human values.
But increasingly, science presents us with a picture of a much more mechanical universe in which there is no absolute morality and man has no purpose and no personal responsibility except to his culture and his biology. We no longer live in an age when faith is sufficient; we demand data, and we are driven by data. And it is data - data that apparently throws some light on our current concepts of Heaven and Hell - that the near-death experience seems to offer.
The near-death experience (NDE) is intriguing for two major reasons. First, it is very common and secondly, it is cross-cultural. The results of one NOP survey in America suggest that over 1 million Americans have ‘seen the light’. Any experience that is so common must have had some influence on the way we think about life and death. Indeed, it could be the very engine that drives our ideas of an afterlife.
Many people believe that in the NDE we are given glimpses of Heaven (or Hell). But it is just as reasonable to assume that it is the NDE itself which may have shaped our very ideas about Heaven and Hell.
The experiences described in this book are all first-hand accounts from people who wrote to me or to David Lorimer, chairman of the International Association of Near Death Studies (UK), after a television programme, radio broadcast or magazine or newspaper article made them aware of our interest in near-death experiences.
We asked 500 of those who wrote to answer a detailed questionnaire about their experiences. Our aim was to gather in a standardised format as much detail as we could about the NDE, the people who have experienced it and the effect that the experience has had on their lives.
As well as asking about the near-death experience itself, we tried as far as possible to discover when it occurred, and what state of consciousness the person was in when it began. Many people had their experience during an operation, while they were under anaesthetic. Others were asleep at the time of the catastrophe that induced the NDE. Just over a third were taking some form of drug at the time of their experience. It was common for patients who were having a heart-attack to report that the NDE began while they were awake.
Most experiences occurred during illness. The illnesses varied very widely but were usually severe though not always life-threatening. We had two accounts from people whose near-death experiences occurred at the time of an attempted murder when they were unconscious. Two per cent of our sample had NDEs during a suicide attempt.
We asked about the effects that the NDE had on the subject.
We also wanted to know how many people had read about NDEs before their experience. This was important, since if the subject already knew about the experience before it occurred, then it would be reasonable to suppose that his or her NDE could to some extent be coloured by this.
It is from this database that the statistics quoted in this book have been drawn, and the accounts given to me by these people and by others who have written to me since then form the basis of the book. But their accounts provided much more than mere statistics. Each one was special in its own way, and provided a personal testimony which I found both moving and utterly sincere. It is very seldom that an author can so truthfully say that without others a book could not have been written - in this case, without these people there would, indeed, have been no book. I feel privileged to have been allowed to read their accounts, and I am grateful to everyone who, by being willing to share their experience with me, has helped in this search to find the truth in the light.
About the author
Dr Peter Fenwick, MB B Chir (Cantab), DPM FRCPsych
Dr Peter Fenwick is a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and a neuropsychiatrist with an international reputation. He holds appointments as Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital, the foremost psychiatric teaching hospital in the UK, the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, and at the Broadmoor Special Hospital for Violent Offenders. He holds a research post as Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. He is also Honorary Consultant at St Thomas’s Hospital, London.
Dr Fenwick has a longstanding interest in the mind/brain interface and the problem of consciousness. He is Britain’s leading clinical authority on the near-death experience, and President of the British branch of IANDS (The International Association for Near-Death Studies). He has contributed to numerous radio and television programmes on this topic, and letters written in response to these have enabled him to create an unparalleled data base of near-death experiences.
Elizabeth Fenwick, MA (Cantab)
Elizabeth Fenwick, who is married to Peter Fenwick, is a professional writer on health and family matters and has written many books on these subjects. She has also produced books on pregnancy and childcare for the Family Doctor Publication Division of the British Medical Association.
In addition she has worked as an agony aunt advising on sexual problems on radio and in Company magazine. She is involved in sex education programmes in various schools in London, and also works as a telephone counsellor for Childline, a helpline for children of all ages.
Peter talks about NDE’s.
An excerpt from “Experiencing Death: An Insider’s Perspective” featuring Steve Paulson, Sam Parnia, Mary Neal, Kevin Nelson, and Peter Fenwick.
The New York Academy of Sciences
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published February 2012
Size: 229 x 152 mm