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New research suggests the moment we traditionally call ‘death’ may have been seconds too soon

One of the questions everyone wants answered may have been answered by accident. A groundbreaking study offers hard new evidence that the moment we shed this death coil, our life truly flashes before our eyes, challenging the very understanding of when death actually occurs.

Dr. Ajmal Zemmar, a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville, USA, has stumbled across something so profound that it casts doubt on when a person really dies. He was treating an 87-year-old patient, who had bleeding between the brain and the skull. Although Zemmar removed the clot, the patient began having seizures, so an electroencephalogram (EEG) was attached to record his brain activity. It was all routine.

“What changed the norm was this: During the EEG recording, the patient suffered a cardiac arrest and died. So now, suddenly, we have the very first recording of life to death in the human brain,” Zemmar told RT.

To the layman, this may not seem so profound, but there are a few reasons why such activity has never been recorded before. First, it is impossible to know when someone is going to die to be ready to measure it. And, second, the accepted way of measuring life is to record a heartbeat – that is, the activity of the heart rather than the brain.

“What we do as standard is record the ECG [electrocardiogram] activity. When we have a patient in intensive care, we do not, as a standard, record the EEG”, explains Zemar. “So one thing that our study might open up for discussion is: is it worth considering recording the EEG? When do we die – is it when the heart stops beating or when the brain stops responding?


Zemmar and his colleague, Professor Raul Vicente Zafra from the University of Tartu, Estonia, and their team recently published a paper titled “Enhanced Interplay of Neuronal Coherence and Coupling in the Dying Human Brain”. Analyzing the readings, they found a spike in brain activity after ‘death’.

“There’s a frequency called the gamma band, which is electrical activity in your brain that goes up and down 40 or 50 times a second…And we’ve seen that after cardiac arrest, the power of that rhythm increases” , Vicente said. “We also saw potency increase in this same frequency range when someone was engaged in activities like memorizing a list of words, for example.”

Based on the data gathered by the researchers, the idea that our life flashes before our eyes when we die is a serious possibility. Such oscillations occur for a full 30 seconds before death, if we are unfortunate enough to suffer cardiac arrest.

According to Zemmar, a previous article offers further confirmation of this theory: “In a rat study done nine years ago by colleagues in the United States, they found very similar outcomes at the time of death in those who had no injury and had clean, healthy brains. In these rats, they observed results very similar to what we see in the human brain.

Zemmar and Vicente’s team kept their research on ice while they analyzed their findings, but now they’ve published them and are asking some really big questions.

“One of the things we would like to open up for discussion is this: if when we say the patient is ‘dead’ we are referring to when their heart stopped, is that correct? Because if their brains keep working, are they really dead? ” Zemmar speculated. “We would rather say, in this case, that after the heart stopped pumping blood, we recorded 30 seconds of activity in the brain. For us, the patient was not yet dead, by definition.

Proof of the magnitude of these findings, the study has generated worldwide interest. But Zemmar and Vicente have worked hard to make sure their study is as solid as possible.

“We’ve been working on this dataset for a while – it’s something that people don’t realize – so it’s very nice now to get the rewards and the attention, and to see them engage. All this analysis takes time and it is the work of months, even years”, explains Vicente.

Neuroscientists appreciate, however, that they only have data from one patient and that the extreme nature of collecting similar data means that their research is unlikely to be repeated on a large scale.


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“We have a case, and one is better than none. We waited a while to come out with this, hoping there would be more people coming to give us more cases, but there just aren’t. Zemmar said.

Some might still wonder why they can’t just repeat their searches. “The difficulty is that we have to talk with the families and say, ‘In the final moments, would you be okay with us doing an experiment? Even if the families were okay with it, you can’t predict death,” explains Zemar. “So when the patient dies and you artificially keep them alive with machines and put in electrodes, I don’t know how much real brain activity you would capture and how much the brain would say goodbye and the heart would work artificially. “

He and Vicente hope that by publishing their data, they will inspire other scientists with relevant research to share it with them so that further conclusions can be drawn in what is surely one of the most seminal scientific studies in history. history, challenging the very idea of ​​death.

“There is no scientific evidence that the patient would really be dead when the heart stopped beating, if you just look at the pure data we have. It may be a few seconds later, maybe in other patients, it’s a few seconds less or more. I don’t know. But it’s fair to say that maybe what we declared as death was a few seconds too soon”, Zemar said.

It could be different for each individual. Is it 20 seconds? 45 seconds? 90 seconds?

Speaking to RT via Zoom, the pair were beaming and clearly proud that their work is receiving so much positive attention. It could also cap an incredible rise for Zemmar, who as a refugee fled Afghanistan aged six with his parents, arriving in Berlin just three days before the fall of the wall in 1989. grown up before pursuing a career in neuroscience internationally.

“The moment we saw results similar to what they saw in the rat study…those are the moments you live for as a scientist. It’s like when a footballer wins the Cup of the world. It was one of the most unforgettable moments we have ever had. he said.

Of course, what happens when we die is not just a scientific question, but a spiritual question. Ironically, this study might actually be more useful to the living than the dead. “I have received messages from friends and patients who have recently lost a family member,” Zemar said. “They said the idea that their beloved might have had a flashback of the happiest times in life they had together calmed them down when they had to say goodbye.”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.


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