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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

The Science of Near-Death Experiences

Jul 09, 2013 04:18AM

The International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) will be holding a D.C. conference this coming Labor Day weekend. Publisher, Robin Fillmore, interviewed Dr. Diane Corcoran, RN, who currently serves as the president of the organization.

Background: A near-death experience (NDE) is a profound phenomenon, typically occurring when a person is clinically dead, facing death, or under physical or emotional trauma. Research  indicates that approximately 10% of patients who experience cardiac arrest in hospital settings experience some type of NDE. There are thousands of documented cases of NDE, many gathered by IANDS, to assist in the study of and integration of these experiences into all relevant scientific, academic, healthcare, and spiritual/religious communities.

RF: What drew you into this work? What is your background?

In 1969, I was serving as lieutenant in Vietnam, as a nurse. One night, a young soldier was brought in to the hospital with a traumatic amputation–he had lost his arm. He was 18 and I was 20–we were babies and we were scared. He said to me, “I want to tell you something, but I really need you to believe me. This is real, it happened to me.” He then described an “outside of his physical body” experience.  From above, he could see others from his unit who had been wounded before he was drawn up through a tunnel into another world. I know now that this is a typical NDE, but this was in 1969 and I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought it was fascinating but didn’t know what it was. I knew enough to allow him to “own” this experience.

A number of years later, in 1976, I was studying at the University of Texas in my doctoral program. My father had been sick, so I went to visit. While I was with him at home, he went into cardiac arrest. He was taken to the hospital and resuscitated. The first thing he told me when he was able was about his NDE, which followed many of the characteristics of others. He told me, “I will tell you this but never want you to talk about it or tell anyone.” I understood that as someone in the healing profession, it was important to listen to these common experiences.  It became my passion to learn more and to share this knowledge with others in the medical profession.

RF: How have you been able to share this information?

At that point, I tried to learn all that I could and began working with physicians who were researching NDE’s. Professionally, I started to teach classes in the military–working with mostly nurses and members of the clergy who are typically the first person an experiencer (of a NDE) will confide in. This person will help color the entire experience, so it is helpful for these people to be trained to listen. I tried to teach about NDE’s in every medical setting in which I worked.  As I rose in rank, it was easier for me to be able to do this.

I have also been involved with IANDS and the research that takes place as a part of that organization. We have developed guidelines to help focus our research. We also have tremendous resources that medical personnel can use as well as information for experiencers. I have served as the president of IANDS two times and have taught nationally and internationally about our work.

RF: Tell me about the conference this coming September.

The conference is for many groups of people. For those who have experienced a NDE, they want to be in a place where they can talk about it. Others from the medical profession attend because they have become interested as they hear more from their patients.  The latest Gallup Poll that was done on this issue known to me was in 1982, where 5% of all Americans claimed to have had a NDE. Typically this wouldn’t include children, who have a very high rate of NDE’s or the elderly, because it is assumed that they are not coherent when they would make a claim. Then, there are also people who are just interested.  With the great popularly of Dr. (Eben) Alexander’s book, Proof of Heaven, there is a lot more interest now.

RF: Alexander’s book is currently number one on the NYTimes best-seller list and has been on the list for 32 weeks (as of June 15). Why do you think that his book is so popular?

Alexander is at the top of his profession and if he is able to talk about his profound NDE from a scientific perspective, it adds credibility to what others are saying. Also, people are desperate in these days and are looking for hopeful answers and to learn the meaning of life. If you know Alexander, you understand that he is not speaking about this to benefit himself, but he is doing it because it is important. People who read his book understand that.

For more information about IANDS and the upcoming conference, at which Dr. Eban Alexander is a keynote speaker, visit 



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