"Pim Van Lommel and his team at Hospital Rijnstate
in the Netherlands interviewed 344 patients who were resuscitated after heart failure at 10 hospitals across the country. The patients were questioned as soon as they were well enough.
Eighteen per cent reported an NDE - classed as a memory of "a special state of consciousness, including specific elements such as out-of-body experience, pleasant feelings and seeing a tunnel."
Van Lommel's team report anecdotal stories of patients recalling events that happened around them during out of body experiences while they were clinically dead. These experiences "push at the limit of medical ideas about the range of human consciousness and the mind/brain relationship," Van Lommel says.
Christopher French, at the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths College, London, says the team's paper is "intriguing", though he notes that van Lommel's team failed to contact the patients for corroboration. He points out that NDEs are impossible to objectively verify - and that out of body experiences have not been proved to exist.
But, in a commentary on the research, he writes: "the out of body component of the NDE offers probably the best hope of launching any kind of attack on current concepts of the relationship between consciousness and brain function."
If researchers could prove that clinically dead patients, with no electrical activity in their cortex, can be aware of events around them and form memories, this would suggest that the brain does not generate consciousness, French and Van Lommel think."