Very little is known about the dying process and in particular the state of the human mind at the end of life. Cardiac arrest is the final step in the dying process irrespective of cause, and is also the closest physiological model of the dying process. Recent studies in cardiac arrest survivors have indicated that although the majority of cardiac arrest survivors have no memory recall from the event, nevertheless approximately 10% develop memories that are consistent with typical near death experiences. These include an ability to 'see' and recall specific detailed descriptions of the resuscitation, as verified by resuscitation staff. Many studies in humans and animals have indicated that brain function ceases during cardiac arrest, thus raising the question of how such lucid, well-structured thought processes with reasoning and memory formation can occur at such a time. This has led to much interest as regards the potential implications for the study of consciousness and its relationship with the brain, which still remains an enigma. In this article, we will review published research examining brain physiology and function during cardiac arrest as well as its potential relationship with near death experiences during this time. Finally, we will explore the contribution that near death experiences during cardiac arrest may make to the wider understanding of human consciousness. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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