Sam Parnia is one of the world’s leading experts on death—on how people can medically be brought back from the dead, and on what happens to the mind, or soul, or consciousness, after people die.
Of UK origin, Parnia works these days as assistant professor of medicine at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. He is also directing the joint American-Canadian-British AWARE study, which he calls “the world’s largest ever study of mind and brain during cardiac arrest.” And he is the author, most recently (with Josh Young), of Erasing Death, an up-to-date exploration of both of Parnia’s areas of expertise—resuscitation from death, and death itself.
About half of this book focuses on resuscitation science—which, since the 1960s, has been able to bring people back from states of clinical death. What Parnia has to say is interesting and informative, though it is not the reason I got hold of the book; I’m more interested in what could be called the mystical angle.
Basically, in Parnia’s telling, resuscitation science is both making unprecedented advances and not doing that well. Thanks to the new technique of cooling the body of a clinically dead person, cell deterioration in the body can be slowed down, and people can be resuscitated for ever-longer periods after death has occurred. On the other hand, survival rates—the percentages of people who are actually brought back to life—are still low and have not improved since the 1960s. “It’s really amazing,” Parnia says, “but absolutely true.”
What’s needed, Parnia contends, is for the resuscitation field to be much better organized, standardized, and coordinated. At this point, the quality of resuscitation care you get at a hospital—or whether you even get it—is pot luck. Parnia thinks the situation can be drastically improved, which would not only mean bringing a lot more people back to life, but restoring a lot more of them intact instead of in vegetative or brain-damaged states.