When is a person really dead?
The following news item in the July 4 issue of Inquirer, about a South African woman who rose from the dead, caught my attention:
“A South African woman, who paramedics had declared dead after a horrific car crash, was later found alive in a mortuary fridge.
“Ambulance Service Distress Alert confirmed that the unnamed woman had been certified dead by paramedics at the scene of the pile-up outside of Carletonville, southwest of Johannesburg, in the early hours of June 24.
“Mortuary technicians then found her alive in a morgue fridge several hours after the crash in which the victim’s car rolled, throwing all three occupants clear of the vehicle, killing two of them.”
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of what is now called “near-death-experience” (NDE), a term coined by Dr. Raymond Moody, who reported interviewing around 150 NDE cases in his best-selling book, “Life After Life,” published in 1975. It sold more than 13 million copies and opened the way for many other studies.
In my book, “The Psychic World and You,” which has recently been reprinted, I included two famous stories of NDE.
Here is a summary of these incredible true stories as related in my book.
“George Rodonaia was a vocal communist in Tbilisi, Georgia, in the former Soviet Union. In 1976, he was assassinated by the KGB by being run over by a car twice. He was rushed to the hospital, pronounced dead, and his body taken to the morgue and immediately frozen, as practiced.
“After three days, Rodonaia’s body was removed from the freezer and wheeled to the autopsy room. A team of doctors then commenced splitting apart his torso. As the blade cut through his flesh, he managed to open his eyes.
“One doctor, thinking this to be a mere reflex, promptly closed them. Once more his eyes popped open, only this time the doctor jumped backward and screamed! His death and the frozen state of his body have been verified. There is no doubt about this. Yet, he is alive up to this day (1982).”
“In 1992, a 71-year-old Romanian choked on a chicken bone and collapsed. He was thought to be dead of a coronary (heart attack), given a funeral and buried. Three days later, a grave-digger heard knocking from inside his wooden coffin. Opening it, they found the man alive. But when he arrived home, his wife refused to see him. It took the poor fellow three weeks to convince the priest, bank clerks, doctors, town hall officials and the police to cancel his death certificate.”
In the Philippines, I’ve heard of cases where the dead wake up and sit upright during their wake and ask for water. These are reported usually in the provinces, where the dead are not immediately embalmed.
And then there is this famous case of Dannion Brinkley, an American ex-Marine who was struck by lightning while talking on the phone, rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead on arrival. After almost 30 minutes, he woke up and told an incredible story of what he had experienced during those 30 minutes of being dead.
The NDE of Brinkley happened twice. Seven years later, he had simultaneous open-heart and brain surgery and died again. This time he was dead for 45 minutes. Incredibly, he is still alive to this day and gives talks all over the United States about his experience.
So, when is a person really dead? When there is no more brain activity and heartbeat for at least 10 minutes? But this is not a strict norm. There is no universal standard.
“Clinical death doesn’t have a consistent meaning,” according to Dr. James Bernat, a neurologist at Dartmouth College: Geisel School of Medicine in New Hampshire. “You are dead when a doctor says you’re dead,” he told Live Science.
Because of these cases of NDE, perhaps it’s time for medical science and legislators to reexamine the definition of death, and the practice of embalming immediately a person who has been pronounced clinically dead. Otherwise, doctors may be committing homicide.
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