Near Death Experiences

An unusual medical conference is taking place in the Texas Medical Center this week. MD Anderson Cancer Center is hosting the four day seminar on near-death experiences. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, medical professionals are learning how to treat these unusual cases.

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A near-death experience is defined as a subjective experience that people sometimes report when the person is either clinically dead, near death, or in a situation where death is likely or expected. People of every age, race, religion and background report having such experiences. Linda Jacquin says when she was four years old, she slipped into a creek and drowned. She then had what she terms an out of body experience, in a place where she felt completely happy and safe.

While Jacquin was having this experience, her family saw her lifeless body floating in the creek. A neighbor performed CPR and resuscitated her. That's when she remembers returning to her body. Dr. Michael Fisch is a medical oncologist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He specializes in palliative care for terminal patients and says near-death experiences sound outlandish and unbelieveable to many, but research shows as many as ten percent of people who are resuscitated after cardiac arrest have an NDE.

M.D. Anderson is the first medical institution to partner with the International Association for Near-Death Studies to sponsor this conference. It's an emerging trend in the medical community to embrace what some consider a deeply spiritual experience. Fisch says it's a reflection of the emphasis on wholistic care and places the physician in an almost pastoral role.

NDEs can often be scientifically explained. People who experience a bright light, for example, may be undergoing retinal trauma. But Fisch says that's not what doctors should focus on. Even if a physician is skeptical about NDEs, it doesn't benefit patients to tell them that. Jacquin agrees, saying doctors should remember the promise to "first do no harm."

Jacquin says her experience completely changed her life.

Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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