What really happens when you die?

People often talk about seeing their lives flash before their eyes, but a select few — some of those who have been resuscitated after nearly dying — have reported on the experience of death, or at least coming very close to it. It’s a rarer phenomenon, and one that has captured the interest of scientists who are trying to answer the question of just what constitutes death, and when death actually occurs. A new international study is endeavoring to apply hard science to one of life’s biggest mysteries — its end.

“When you think about it, most people out there think of death as a moment; you’re either dead or you’re not,” Dr. Sam Parnia of Weill Cornell Medical Center told Meredith Vieira live on TODAY Monday. “But what we’ve found is there is no moment of death; it begins when your heart stops, and it goes on for a period of time.”

Parnia is the author of the book “What Happens When We Die” and the driving force behind the AWARE (Awareness During Resuscitation) study, which tries to add some medical weight to stories of people who say they were conscious as doctors tried to restart their bodies after death. By learning from people who have been brought back from the dead, doctors might actually learn how to better save lives, he believes.


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