The Final Journey
People are fascinated by death. Despite the western world becoming increasingly secular, with traditional doctrinal understandings of heaven and the after life becoming relegated to those who follow specific faiths, people are still fascinated by what happens after death and many who have rejected their religious upbringing still refuse to accept the possibility that when you die, you simply rot.
Dawn of the Dead
As we learn how doctors make their diagnoses, so we also hear from people who have "come back" from the dead. In the voodoo tradition of Haiti there is great reverence for the dead and a central aspect of the voodoo belief system is the notion of zombies - recently deceased corpses coming back to life. Despite being a somewhat primitive faith, Shamanism and voodoo is still practised in Haiti and over the years psychologists and medical experts have researched into the many claims over the years of zombification. A widely reached conclusion is that the shaman or witch doctor has given individuals a combination of natural medicines that simulate death, causing the vital signs to drop, and the victim falls into a comatose state. The victim is then misdiagnosed as being dead, only to be revived hours or even days later. In broader terms, it could be argued that throughout history such naïve misunderstandings have lead to myths and legends of the "undead".
The Resurrection? Miracle or Misdiagnosis?
Did Jesus rise from the grave, or is it possible that one of the greatest stories ever told could in actual fact be nothing more than an incredibly high profile case of misdiagnosis of death? At the heart of the mystery is the suspicion that Jesus might not actually have died on the cross. It is widely considered that the act of crucifixion caused the victim to die of asphyxiation as the position of the body can cause it's own weight to prevent the lungs from functioning properly. However, it has also been proved that it is perfectly possible to survive crucifixion. It is not a quick death, as a person with hands outstretched to the side at an angle fit for being attached to a cross could live for hours before finally suffocating; plus, there are historical records of people who did survive this brutal method of execution. It is possible then, that Jesus was mistakenly presumed as dead, taken down from the cross and left for dead, only to later regain consciousness. Now, how did he move that darn boulder...
Follow the Light...
A closely related to the misdiagnosis of death is that of Near Death Experiences. Traditionally this term referred to a belief that the spirit or soul leaves the physical body usually after a major trauma, such as accidents, illnesses, a comatose state, under anaesthesia, unconsciousness, physical injury or even during severe allergic reactions. Simply put, it is a moment of release by the soul from the physical. Most people report that during these experiences they are outside of their physical bodies - travelling through a tunnel toward a source of white light. Accounts often report that during these NDEs the subject meets a deceased relative or heavenly being, coming to a precipice or place where a decision about life or death must take place, seeing one's life pass before their eyes, acute awareness, a feeling of timelessness and intense emotions. But are these testimonies the premonitions of someone dying and experiencing heaven, or merely a chemical mis-wiring of the brain?
A Drowning Epiphany
Of course the question that needs to be asked is this: how can you have a true account of what happens after death when, by definition, those who 'cross over' are dead and cant' exactly pop round for a cup of tea and a chat without the help of a good medium! Well, many claims of near death experiences stem from those who very nearly drown and whose body technically dies for a matter of moments, only to be revived; many have testified that they have experienced the white light and more often than not, an overwhelming sense of release, pleasure and calm serenity. When the person is revived they can attribute this sensation to be a spiritual awakening from the other side, but scientists generally attribute this to the fact that just before a drowning victim is overcome their brain releases endorphins - the chemical generated by the brain during intense exercise - which cause an overwhelming calmness to take hold. So is this accountable for all those near death experiences?
Higher State of Being
Around eighty percent of the people who experienced near-death states claim that their lives were forever changed by what happened to them. Many have lost their fear of death, become more spiritual and less religious and can engage in abstract thinking more easily, possessing a more philosophical approach to life. In most testimonies there dawns a newly realised conviction of a life purpose, while some declare that physical attributes have become altered, including heightened senses. In really extreme cases, those who have had NDEs claim to have developed psychic abilities and claim to have premonitions of the future. Whether or not these experiences are the product of some higher power or merely a chemical anomaly in the brain, it seems that something does definitely occur in the mind of the individual and that these changes are often highly positive, so perhaps it is pointless to scrutinise it and just accept that whatever happens when we meet our end, death isn't as horrific an ordeal as we might fear!