Erasing Death

By Sabrina Schmitz, MD

“Erasing Death” Explores the Science of Resuscitation (NPR—Feb 20, 2013)



  • This is an NPR interview of Dr. Sam Parnia, Director of Resuscitation Medicine at Stony Brook, in which he discusses ideas presented in his book, “Erasing Death.”
  • Dr. Parnia fields many lay questions about resuscitation and critical care medicine (which should be helpful by giving us a better idea of the public’s level of understanding of resuscitation), but also presents some questions/ideas that are potentially new and interesting to even physicians intimately involved in resuscitation medicine:
    • How do we define death in the light of significant advances in resuscitation medicine?
    • How do we explain the similarity of “after-death experiences” (a term he is attempting to distinguish from “near-death experiences”)?  They are very similar around the world, and across religions, genders, age groups, etc.
    • How can we objectively study these experiences?  Some of his research efforts are briefly discussed.
    • How can we explain why 80-90% of successfully resuscitated people do NOT have recollections of such experiences?  Here, Dr. Parnia questions whether this could be a function of the quality of resuscitation the patient received.  How can we explain why some people have these recollections shortly after resuscitation, but forget them later?
    • Death as a process (rather than a moment) is discussed from perspectives such as the length of time it takes different types of cells (e.g., neurons) to die after cardiac arrest.  This is incorporated into ideas of “after-death experiences.”
    • Dr. Parnia briefly touches on the popular “Dying Brain Hypothesis,” which postulates that these experiences are similar to hallucinations and dreams.  He also discusses current physician opinions on where the “seat of consciousness” lies (of course a philosophical question which has been debated for centuries).
    • Finally, Dr. Parnia reveals what drives him to pursue this research.  He states that many philosophical questions have fallen into the realm of becoming questions behind scientific research, and since cardiac arrest is a universal experience, the question of “what happens after we die” is worthy of investigation.  He also discusses the importance of efforts to create better standards in post cardiac arrest care.
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