What really happens when you Die | End-of-life-phenomena • At home with Peter Fenwick

What really happens when you Die | End-of-life-phenomena • At home with Peter Fenwick


dr. Fenwick you are a neuropsychiatrist
and you are an expert in near-death experiences and end-of-life phenomena
before I ask you about that what is a neuropsychiatrist I’m a
neuropsychiatrist and that means as I’m trained in neurology and psychiatry and
I’ve done that for many years but it’s a perfect position to be because you’re
between brain and mind so you can see both sides of the field and understand
them much better than if you were just a psychiatrist or a neurologist what does
your daily work involve the day job that I had was dealing with people of brain
damage and the psychological problems flow from that
so I dealt with epilepsy and I had large numbers of patients who had seizures
they had altered consciousness of various types so one can use epilepsy as
a model of how the brain works and that was great but in my research they were
very wide as interested in sleep as interested as the equipment came in to
look at brain structure but first of all I was interested in the electrical
activity of the brain EEG and in fact one of the first papers
I wrote was on George Harrison to remember George Harrison the Beatle well
he very kindly came along to our lab and I took his EEG when he was meditating
because he had been to see the Maharishi and so on he was one of the first
meditation records that I got so that then became an interest of mine so
meditation and unusual experiences spiritual experiences I I studied and
then I became interested in the near-death experience that led on to an
interest in dying and how we die in broad terms what can we learn from these
scans so how does nearest country help us
understand people it’s very good because you get both sides of the picture you
can understand what’s going on in their brain you can understand what’s going on
in their minds so you’ve got a really quite a close correlation between those
two things but it also directs you straight to the fundamental question of
our time and that is what is consciousness is it all brain is it
outside of brain because William James way back the turn of the century said
that consciousness was outside and the brain filtered it as many people have
done since then whereas others and the main thrust of modern science is to
ignore that and to say now it’s all brain function my own view is that’s too
limited I don’t think it is for a minute yeah how did you get involved with
near-death experiences and near-death experiences I thought was rubbish
absolute rubbish it only happened in California and it would never ever cross
the Atlantic I knew that and I said so didn’t when was that oh that was way
back in the late 1970s just going into 1980 until there turned up in my
consulting room somebody had had a near-death experience he’d had the
cardiac catheter in one of our hospitals in London which had gone wrong and
during the process he left his body watched the resuscitation and then had
the classical near-death experience and so with this as an example I was able to
study them and I came to the conclusion that they really happened and they had a
lot to teach us so I had to shift my position from rubbish to really
interesting mm-hmm how did you go about studying these phenomena first of all I
took individual cases when I came across them and looked at those from the point
of view of what the people experienced and I set up a number of
studies some of them I was allowed to do another time wasn’t for example in one
of the hospitals I was in I wanted to study people in the intensive care unit
and see if they had near-death experiences during their time and when I
put it to that hospitals ethics committee the man who ran the intensive
care unit said none of my patients will have experiences like that it’s a waste
of time and so I couldn’t do that one then so I went the other route and that
was to study the experiences that people have had and I was very lucky because in
87 I did a television documentary in this country and following it we got
2,000 letters remember letters those things you have been you know not an
email so we’ve got to thousands of those and that gave us a huge database so I
took the best ones best meaning that most like an NDE and sent questionnaires
off to 500 of them and that became a sample and I learned a lot of very
important things from that firstly this sample will never be repeated again
because 98 percent had in fact not heard of any ease when they had their NDE so
that automatically rules out suggestion and things like that so it was very
different the next thing I learned was that when you looked at what caused the
NDE it was very very wide from cardiac
arrests right through childbirth illnesses going even wider than that you
come down at the end to people who’d be sitting in front of their far one
evening and they would have a near-death experience they got all the phenomena
and if they filled in any of the rating scales they were rated as a near-death
experience and so I learnt that they are common in our society and
the fact that they are associated only with things like cardiac arrest I think
was not to do the work which ourselves and Bruce Greyson in America was doing
and that was to say okay we want to study near-death experiences well then
we want to know what the brain state is now how do you know what the brain state
is when a woman is is having a baby you can’t it’s far too variable and you
during an illness it’s also too variable so I took what I thought was the most
sensible when the brain was not working so I took the near-death experiences
which occurred during cardiac arrest and so we spent a number of years looking at
that so this was a large sample did you get the whole spectrum of near-death
experiences I think it was pretty nearly the whole spectrum in our culture
because you have to say that there are certain fundamentals which are culture
specific for example tunnels and light tend to be seen a lot more in Western
experiences than they do in some of the eastern experiences and if you take
hunter-gatherers the experience itself is quite different for example there’s
some nice simple aegs sorry near-death experiences from hunter-gatherers and
here’s one example a man had a near-death experience he got into his
canoe and he paddled for three days so he came to an island
this is his near-death experience and actually do this and in the island he
then had the sort of experience of an ideal place like the near-death
experiences do so his was quite different
don’t forget the Japanese when they go they don’t actually go down a tunnel
usually they usually come to a dark River which they have to cross and they
have to find a boatman to take them across that sort of thing so there are
cultural differences I think one has to realize that and
accept it it’s that dependent on your worldview on your background yes the
reason for that being cultural differences is very wide
it’s definitely worldview it’s definitely religious upbringing and it’s
definitely the culture that you’re in all these things impact on it what do
you think is the value of NDE research I think that they have two important
values one is that they have to be at the cutting edge of research into
consciousness and one of the things that we’re learning is that very powerful
experiences change people who have them and so people who have near-death
experiences or change because of them and so that’s an interesting fact which
we need to need to look at the phenomenology of them gives us some idea
about the nature and structure of consciousness so from that point of view
they’re extremely good and because they’ve come to be associated blood
pointed out that this is just an association they’re much wider than that
with cardiac arrest and actual death experiences are they a good model of how
we die so from all those reasons I think they’re very important do you think that
near-death experiences provide some kind of proof that consciousness can exist
without a brain is consciousness independent of the brain that’s a very
wide question and I wouldn’t look can consciousness exist without a brain yes
well we’d have no way of knowing would we so the question is a good one I’d
formulate it slightly differently I would say all the mechanist s’right is
consciousness secreted by the brain as the brain as the liver secretes bile
that sort of thing or the kidneys you’re in
is it a product of brain function or is it in fact a filter in some way that
there is in fact a transcendent reality out there that is filtered by the brain
so we get a reduced picture of it and I think those are the two questions I mean
I know what my answer is but it’s not the usual answer why is
that why do I believe that consciousness exists beyond the brain rather than that
it’s secreted like bile in the brain the answer to that is that why would you
think it was only brain function and if you look at the arguments which have put
forward there’s got to be a very high correlation between brain damage and the
changes in the mind and in the capabilities and so on of the person
who’s damaged there’s got to be a very high correlation but that doesn’t say
anything about causation because causation and correlation are quite
different and if you want a really good authority for this statement you can
think about Penfield Penfield was a very very well known neuro surgeon from
Canada and Penfield put electrodes in the brain he’s one of the first people
to do it got a very good idea of what how the brain functions and how it was
connected together and so on so he spent his life actually looking at the brain
and at the end he wrote a book about what did he think what his mind he came
to say there’s absolutely no doubt that neurons communicate with each other in
very complex ways and complex ways we don’t understand yet but the energy of
mind is different and so however much you study
in Europe the neurons you will not in fact get to the energy of mine so it’s a
different dimension altogether now that’s from somebody who spent his life
studying the brain but on the other hand you can get philosophers like Dan
Dennett who says it’s all brain I was sitting
next to Dan Dennett at a conference once and I said Dan you don’t really believe
that do you when you understand when we understand
the neuron will understand consciousness he said absolutely when we numb when
we’ve understood the neurons then there will be nothing left maybe a little
smidgen like that but that’s all it’s only the brain and that’s so you got the
two camps and each camp will in fact put forward evidence as to why they’re right
but of course I sit in between the brain is enormous ly important has great
functions but it can’t explain consciousness but we there is only one
theory in this whole world of what consciousness is and this is Stuart
Hameroff sand Roger Penrose is a theory and this is that the brain in the
microtubules these are structures within the brain acts as a quantum mechanical
computer and that it is within that collapse of the wavefunction
in the tubules that consciousness undifferentiated unattached arises so
think of the huge matrix of the brain and these little points of consciousness
coming into the brain then of course consciousness is woven into the brain
and into the circuits of the brain and then you build it up into self
consciousness now that is about the only theory I know that actually allows
consciousness to arise in any way at all so it’s an important theory you’ve
written a book about the art of dying and described a number of end-of-life
phenomena can you tell us about them I have written a book called the art of
dying and I wrote it because I asked a question he came right out of the
near-death experience research the research said that you go down a tunnel
in in our culture you meet a being of light you go into this transcendent
reality where you meet dead relatives and spiritual beings you may have a life
review then you’ll come to a border which if you cross you know you’re going
to die so it’s a perfectly valid question to ask is this near-death
experience a model of what will happen when you die so we can actually do that
so how do you validate that model what you do is you find out what the mental
experiences are of the die now in 2000 when I started on this research you
could go into PubMed one of the main medical databases and ask questions like
how many people have published papers on deathbed visions during about five what
about end-of-life experiences maybe one or two and so you could become a world
expert you see very quickly you only had to look at seven papers and you knew the
literature and so what I’m saying is that there wasn’t anything there so we
went along to our ethics committee and said could we please talk to the dying
so we could get some idea of what the process of dying was like most would way
back in 2000 and they quite rightly said I think no because you may disturb the
dying now why did they say that they said it because nobody had ever done
that before and they actually didn’t know
so we had to change our tack we had to do a carer study now if you go into a
hospice it’s less so now but very strong then you find that it’s divided into
bands through the nurses who are in touch with the patients they see all the
phenomena of dying and the doctors who aren’t and say it doesn’t occur so there
is really quite a significant difference between these two and I have some really
interesting stories about this gap between the medical and the nursing
staff as I say it’s less now I’ll tell you why I did it then I’ll tell you the
stories afterwards because it makes more sense that way so the Ethics Committee
said you can do a carer study but you can’t ask the dying so he actually did a
carer study we did three hospices in a nursing home in this country and we did
three hospices in rotterdam to get a cross cultural component it’s not very
cross-cultural but it’s just slightly different a little bit further away and
we found the most fascinating things and so it’s allowed us to put together a
measure of the sorts of things that you can expect the first thing that you may
get is a premonition and that means that you know you’re going to die so before
you get the diagnosis you learn in a dream maybe or it suddenly comes to you
that you’re going to die soon this is the patients or the relatives ah no the
patient’s the Dalai Lama says all of us know two years before we’re going to
died that we’re going to die so we’re given that information if you look in
his book to see how we know he says two things one of which I can understand
slightly and that is the behavior changes and the other is that our
breathing changes well I don’t know what he means by that
but I can see that one’s behavior may change you may get the feeling that
you’re going to die and then across your behavior will change but he says it’s
very common in fact it’s everyone we didn’t find that we felt it was not
common but not so rare that we couldn’t pick up occasional cases of it
the next thing that happens is that a few weeks before you die you get
deathbed visitors now what’s the deathbed visitor they are relatives who
come to you they do it in a specific way they may stand outside the room in which
you’re dying or they may come into the room and that’s quite common you of
course will talk to them and then a number of them will sit on the bed and
talk to you why do they sit on the bed because it’s enormous ly comforting to
you to have somebody sitting on the bed I mean if you’ve ever had any old child
you know you don’t just stand up and talk to it you go and sit on the bed and
hold its hand and so on well the the relatives can sit on the bed and we took
a hundred deathbed visions and analyzed them for content and we found that the
Communists spoke people who come a first degree but relatives mother and father
are commonly seen dead spouses are quite common but we also in fact found that
brothers and sisters come people you don’t know occasionally occasionally
animals not many sorry about that your cat or your dog is
not going to come along so it’s mainly first-degree relatives
and we also found in our sample that spiritual beings were seen now the
spiritual beings behave slightly differently from
the relatives they tend to either wait outside the hostel hospice and they’re
seen through the window or they may come to the door and some of them come in now
I must point out that this is there’s a big cultural element because a paper
published from the Bible Belt of of America showed that angels were seen
very commonly now in our sample any three percent of people saw angels so
it’s much smaller over here so I think there is this cultural component to it
so there are visitors and spiritual beings are there any other phenomena
around this as you go closer to death you come into the next stage and in fact
these needed to be changed now a bit but what we initially found was that you
went into a different reality a spiritual world then you came back again
so this was as if you were getting used to the spiritual world so he went into
it and came back and went into it and came back and it was very important for
the people who were dying and now that is changing and I want to talk about
Monica rinses theory on this because it’s absolutely vital
Monica rents is a theologian in Switzerland and she has had a lot of
contact with the dying and she’s done published three studies now with a
cancer patients who are dying and one study was I think with about 60 patients
another one was 240 she’s just recently done a dual hospice study now what she
finds is that what we said was correct people do in fact go into this other
reality but if we come now to the dying process itself which is enormous ly
interesting and important and we all need to learn this in fact we should be
taught it in in in school and the way that dying I think is it’s like this
deathbed visitors come fine then at some moment you realize you’re going to die
and it hits you hard we’re not coming back guys this isn’t a getting well
process it’s a dying process and that then leaves you in a very difficult
position because you never come across that before you’ve always had some
control over something you now don’t and so you have to start giving everything
up this is absolutely fundamental you have to give up the fact that you’re
going to go on living you have to give up your wife have to
give up your cat and your dog to give up your children your family have to give
up your house and your job you’ve got to give up everything and if you don’t you
remain attached now attachment is the most difficult thing when you’re dying
if you could give everything up you’d have a very smooth transition you go
from this pre transition where you’re attached to transition which is a sort
of intermediate one to post transition and in post transition you in fact have
given everything up you go more and more into the spiritual domain which I’ve
described to you and it’s just like that until at the end you have lost your ego
you’ve lost that part of yourself which is differentiated you and you become
what’s called non Jew that means that you do in fact merge with the universe
you have already lost all your trappings of being a body in a purse
and you just got this non-duality which is merging with the greatest greater
cosmos behind so the idea that you’re going to retain a lot of the things that
you have in this life when you go there you know again see my mum and say hi
probably not but you will probably you could see your mum I don’t know but in
fact you will become Universal so that’s what the data shows and the data shows
that if you don’t give up all the things to which you’re attached then you have a
very difficult process in dying because you’ve got these two processes the one
of fusion with the greater beyond the outer pulling back into the limited
juicy and what happens then when the dying is more difficult yeah then you
have what is called spiritual restlessness it’s it’s not a pleasant
state to be in because you’ve got a lot of anxiety and all the time you’re being
pulled back you’re being pulled back you’re being pulled back it’s not
pleasant so you ought to know this so when you go into a hospice you should
have a lecture on the fact that you’re going to give up everything and so
that’s that takes you up to the dying process
now before you die I just want to add one other set of phenomena and these are
called terminal lucidity terminal lucidity is when the the Victorians used
to call it late awakening essentially and what it was is that you suddenly sit
up in bed say hi to the people around you because actually you don’t say how
you say goodbye because you know you’re dying and then you lie back and die now
that’s interesting enough but it’s much more interesting than that
because people who are paralyzed and haven’t moved maybe for a year
being a long-term care home they can sit up and do it so for that those few
moments the central nervous system seems to work again appropriately but more
interesting that to me is the people who have Alzheimer’s disease and have in
fact lost their memories many years back and just being in a care home will sit
up recognize their friends say goodbye sometimes meet their dead relatives and
then lie back and die so that’s a real question for science because how can you
do these things if one just takes the argument that the brain secretes
consciousness because it has to get its health secretion process going again do
you see like that just before you die doesn’t seem totally reasonable so that
then you die now the shows not over it’s over as far as you’re concerned but it’s
not as far as your relatives are concerned because many people who have a
a close relationship will then okay I can make a visit and this is important
because as you come up to death you can actually put off your dying for a bit
because sometimes some of the deathbed visits as you have said I’m going to
come back on Tuesday and you’ll die then but remember that we’ve got two sorts of
narratives running one is where you have more control and you probably actually
do so you can remember that you can negotiate with your relatives if you
want to to live a little bit longer but when you actually die if you have a
drive say to go and see a daughter or a son who couldn’t be there with you then
you can visit and the visit is very specific we’ve got a lot of these and
we’ve analyzed them and they at the time of death 99% always in half
nah most of the actual time of death and it depends on the mental state of the
person who receives the visit if you receive the visit and you’re awake
then it would be a feeling that somebody you know is dying dying the feeling that
they would like some help in some way or you feel some catastrophe is occurring
there’s the sorts of feelings you have if on the other hand you’re asleep then
it’s quite different you get a narrative dream and here’s an example of one a
woman woke up I think she was actually in a narrative dream and she saw
standing at the end of the bed her son and her son was dripping wet and her son
came closer and closer to her and as he came closer he became he came into the
light and became transfigured you gave her a message which many of them do and
said it’s okay please don’t worry I’m all right and then the whole thing faded
now the interesting point is that she’s in Australia and he’s in England and
when she can when the time zones a joust she rings up and she finds that in fact
he was drowned at that time in England and so there was a component of what was
happening in that he had wet clothes and then his transformation and and
disappearance at the end so that’s not an unusual story sometimes they just
come and give their message which is always I’m okay please don’t worry
and then move on so those are called deathbed coincidences now in our series
of these 45% of the people who had them didn’t know the person was dying
so you can’t in any way again blame expectation in very nearly half the
cases and I don’t think actually explanation of somebody’s death is a
good explanation at all so that’s deathbed vision now that other
phenomena which happened around the time of death and these are light in the room
light in the room is fascinating it can be very strong and behave like a real
light in other words the room can flood with light and flood out of the door
perience by the relatives only by the relatives into the corridor and then
people can pick it up and we had one account of the person woke up at night
found the light shining to the wrong thoughts he must have left the corridor
light on got out and saw it was streaming out of her aunt’s bedroom her
aunt was dying went in when you go into this light it’s always got the spiritual
quality to it and she reported that and she sat down quietly by her aunt who
slowly died now she died the light faded the light fading with death is very
common so the next thing can happen at the time of death instantly when I say
common in our series about thirty five percent of the nurses reported light in
the rooms of the dying and in their conversations with the relatives but
it’s a little bit more complex than that because I’ve spoken to relatives where
there’s been a brother and the sister and one of them will have seen it and
the other one may not so I think it’s going to be an interaction between the
person and what’s going on in the dying process so that’s light next thing is
shapes leaving the body again really quite common lots of stories of that and
they they describe it as first of all some people will describe a sort of
mirror type thing that they see coming up it’s
a sort of change in the atmosphere and the other thing is that it can look like
smoke arising or it can have a definite form to it and they’re all variations on
the theme and it’s very much has its bettin book of the dead describes these
last phases of dying they just describe a mirage they describe smoke and then
they go into our in sky and white sky which is something slightly different
but it’s a stage further down the line so shapes leaving the body quite common
light and transformation then clock stopping do clocks really stop well the
answer is yes how do we know because people say their clocks stopped at the
time of death and show it but what interested me is okay so I I accept the
pendulum clocks you know long case clocks stop because you could see that
sort of got a nice mechanical feel to it but do modern clocks which are LEDs do
they stop what do they do they turn the light out or what and we got one of two
accounts and this is a nice one somebody came up to tell the person who’s died
brother that he had died when he went into the into his house his brother came
to the door and said there’s no need for me for you to tell me I know and when I
asked him how he knew he said look at the clocks and they’d all stopped at the
time of his death and were flashing his death time that’s the story and you but
you get a lot of these stories watches stopping and so on so
clock still seemed to stop even in this modern era the other thing is cats and
animals howl at the time of death that’s quite common common enough for people to
report it and birds fascinating if you talk to people in hospices they’ll tell
you quite often that birds appear on the windowsills with people who are dying I
wish people would do simple experiments you just need one cat camera put it on
window a person who’s dying and compare that with the window somebody who’s not
dying I mean they’re so easy such easy experiments to do and it’s either true
or it’s not true so birds are commonly seen there was a village in
Massachusetts that described a guy who was fond of owls and when he died a
white owl came and sat in the village tree and well documented and they don’t
have scenario sir and the owl stayed there until his funeral and after his
funeral it flew away what does that mean don’t know okay others witnessed by
others yeah so these are all all things that happen do you have a sense of
frequently these things occurring well we we did a in in our surveys we always
asked what the frequency was you can do it in two ways you can see how common it
is in the sense that if a lot of our carers saw it is probably a lot more
common than if they didn’t and so I can give you free frequencies very easily talking to carers and deathbed visions
were about fifty percent but since we published these papers other people have
been doing it and they have done it two ways they have done it by looking at the
charts in that other words doing a child review so seeing how many times people
have said they’ve seen deathbed distances and so on they’re all seen any
of these things the other way is to ask the dying if you’re in that phase or ask
the carers actually or the relatives and it goes way up into the 80s it’s
probably very common but people just don’t report it and certainly we know
that in Monica rensis study 90 percent 90 percent that’s almost everyone will
go through this phase of going into this alternate reality and back again and
we’ll have to give up everything and go towards non-duality so it’s enormous Lee
important how can we achieve a good death i I’m driven now with all the
experience I’ve had by Monde occurrences work my work showed that you would go
into this alternate reality you would have your deathbed visitors and then you
would slowly come up to death and many people would in fact then trance and
I’ve got two stories on this one is a great friend of mine Thetis blacker who
was a religious planter and I had an agreement with that is when she died she
would let me know if I died before her I’d let her know said we could in fact
discuss the dying process because we talked a lot about it and she died
before I did because I’m still here and she’s not and she described what it was
like for her and she said as she was coming up to death this is just a week
before she died she had a river of love golden love and light which flowed
through her room and through the hospice and that’s sort of phenomena and I can
see probably occurs quite often but people
asked about it in other words and they also i dint know how to incorporate it
into their worldview but that sort of thing and another one which is an
amazing book he’s written a book about it and this is Paul Robertson the leader
of the medici quartet and he and i knew each other very well and paul had a
near-death experience and in his near-death experience
he catalogues the point of dying he says that he gave up his body to join with
the universal consciousness joyfully happily and willingly do you see he was
unattached and i think that’s a very good description of the death process we
have now joyfully lovingly and willingly and when he came back he was able to
talk about his near-death experience in the way that had changed his life I had
the same pact before that if I died before him he’d come be with me but in
fact that I was lucky because I was there the day before he died and he was
in and out of this sort of state but unfortunately I couldn’t stay long
enough but his wife was there the next day news sort of going down into
consciousness unconsciousness and he said to his wife tell Peter fennec it’s
exactly as we’ve discussed and then he died interesting I mean you can’t get it
much closer than that so I think the the the picture that we have of dying from
the evidence of dying people is actually quite good and I think you have to think
about giving everything up and then becoming non-dual and merging now one of
the interesting points about near-death experiences near-death experiences is
that a number of them become non-dual now what do I mean by that this is in
consciousness research and it’s one of the most interesting points of
consciousness research and that is that as you go on the
awakening process in other words changing your level of consciousness and
becoming more widely conscious you in fact have one or two features you lose
your narrative self you know this little bits of you the chats to yourself all
the time that goes next you’re always in the moment you’re not in the past you’re
not in the future it doesn’t mean anything to you if you ask them what is
the world they say well it’s here nah this is it what about what it was like
it’s not that it doesn’t exist I’m saying for the future what’s to come say
it just in the moment and the other thing is you’re unbelievably happy
and you’re also tending to be transcendent as well your persona is not
in the narrative voice and here it’s that you have become non-jew land and
are merging with reality and there’s a man called Jeffrey Martin in the States
and he’s collected 1500 cases of these these are ordinary people who’ve done it
so we know the state exists and we know it the how it exists and the link with
near-death experiences is because of the non-dual features in the near-death
experience and in dying the question is whether they’re the same or not or
whether people might become non Jew in the near-death experience and the answer
is yes they do and how do I know that because I’ve spoken to people who have
had near-death experiences actually it’s only to that I only need to who
described the non-dual state so you can get a shift in your level of
consciousness when you come back from a near-death experience so the idea that
the near-death experience may have something to do with dying and quite
closely in terms of consciousness and the shifting
consciousness is beginning to come together in a really interesting way do
you think there’s any connection between the way we think and the way we live our
lives and the way we experience our death and what comes after is the sort
of life you lead does it influence and the way you die well yes it does but you
have to be very careful here because we have accounts of people who’ve said it’s
all material I’m just going to go into blackness nothing and they say this
beforehand beforehand that’s that’s their belief structure and what is quite
clear is that as they come into the death process they’ve all given up that
idea and they all start looking forward to what’s going going to what’s
happening to them they don’t say they don’t believe in anything anymore the
sort of things they say one woman who was absolutely sure that there was
nothing there kept on waking up from a coma saying come on get on with it
because I want to move on do you see and that was quite different from what her
stance was so if you have a strong belief in angels will you see angels
probably that’s what the South of North America chose the Bible Belt they show
that if you lead a good life will you will it be different from a bad life and
I’m going to just reframe that bit if a good life means that you’re not strongly
centered in yourself in other words you’re thinking about other people and
doing things like that then when you come to this phase of giving up you can
give up much more easily because you’re not centered the other thing is guilt
because guilt is something which holds up people for
very difficult to give up their guilt all those terrible things they didn’t
they feel guilty about they’re very difficult to give up and so if you think
of somebody who’s committed a lot of crimes and they feel guilty about it
then they’ll have a lot of difficulty giving up and so my colleagues asked me
what happens if you’re a psychopath and have no guilt I don’t know I’ve never
seen a psychopath die but I assume they may do it very easily I don’t know if
they can give everything up so it’s going to be relate the quality of your
life is going to be related to your capacity to give up and this is going to
be how self-centered you are the more self-centered you are the more difficult
it’s going to be to give it up the cliche we often find in movies and in
literature that a good person has a good death and the bad guy has a bad death is
this what you observed in in your research how I’ve described it is
arguing from death in normal people and death in people who have spiritual
anxiety before as they come up to death so if people are married to anxiety of
those in fact who are attached and those who are free armed and so you can argue
from that statement to if you’re loaded with guilt or unable to give up your
persona or your possessions or anything those are the people again have
difficult death so it sort of fits in a bit with literature but not quite it’s
it’s it just got this twist that you have to be able to give up so let’s
assume you’re a billionaire and you smile at your friends and say it’s all
yours now and give it up and sink into death fine no problem many of my
colleagues many doctors would say these are just hallucinations what do you say
about that so people say all these things that I we were finding and the
dying are hallucinations well this is terminal
gee isn’t it what is a hallucination a hallucination is an experience that you
have and nobody else does so they’re many hallucinations so the fact that
they’re hallucinations really is saying nothing but if you look at the data then
people relatives in the same room quite often
no not quite often rarely see the deathbed visitors but they do see them
there are quite good accounts children see them more than adults and
occasionally the hospice nurses see them so on that ground they’re not
hallucinations in those cases so why are you going to say some of hallucinations
and some aren’t it doesn’t make any sense calling them hallucinations mean
that you’re just keen to get rid of the topic now let’s talk about something
interesting but they’re they’re not it doesn’t help
yeah they’re also so-called hellish near-death experiences what do you say
about that so some people report hellish experiences I have a lot of difficulty
with hellish experiences because in the ones that we took from our survey or
from the letters which people wrote there was always a clear explanation of
what a hellish experience was I’ll give you an example this man had a near-death
experience he suddenly realized that he had left his body and was in a hellish
realm and there were loads of devils there and there kept on tricking him and torturing him and he knew he was in a
hellish realm because he could feel the flames of hell burning him now as he got
better because he was in intensive care he realized that hellish experiences
were in fact coming from the heating pad he was
hang on and that led to a misinterpretation of the heat sensory
data and the devil so it’s quite easy to see because he said these were the
nurses that were coming in and giving him injections and doing things like
that so that was his interpretation so this was an illusory experience he was
getting very close to something which is called an intensive care psychosis
because they are paranoid they are where people are doing things which are
horrible to you and so it has a rational explanation that you don’t have to
postulate a hell but the question is is there a hell is there really a hellish
realm of people going to or not it I’ve had no death experience no true death
experience which people have reported that there’s a hell they just don’t do
it near-death experiences in our sample it
was 4% now that may be lower because remember ours was a a letter-writing
survey and are you really going to write into Sundy who’s done a program and I’m
the ease and say I’ll spent my my NDE being punished and pulled by Devils
recursion not so we got probably an under-representation of that but the
ones that we had in our sample I couldn’t convince myself that they were
of the same sort of order as near-death experiences now other people think that
I’m wrong there so you can obviously interpret the data either way so what
have you learned from all this is there a special message for our culture I
think the experience that I have learned about near-death experiences and dying
have a very strong message to our culture I’m absolutely with Dalai Lama
in the first part he says any culture which can’t which sweeps death under the
carpet and can’t acknowledge it is this is a society which is greed
because you’re collecting things and you’re going to have it you can be angry
with people because it means it’s fine to have enemies and they are very
self-centered because they’re going to live on to eternity if you look at our
culture it’s very it’s got strong components of that so I think the way
that we medicalised death sweep it away don’t talk about it is producing a
culture that is exactly one in which we deny our responsibility look every
hundred years we’re all going to be swept away like that but yet we won’t
talk about this earth point one the next point is that we ought to start with
children telling them about what it’s like to die fact we’re all going to die
bring it out into the open and discuss it one of my grandson’s came down and he
found that a dog had got into the garden and bitten the head of two of his
hamsters now he’s confronted by death they’re these things that he loved
dearly have just been destroyed and so it raises questions do they all go to a
guinea pig heaven or are we just all machines what does death means you see
these very fundamental questions you get very early lessons but if you go round a
class of kids and say how many of you have experienced to death many of them
have had grandparents who have died they know about it so it ought to be on the
school curriculum we ought to teach them the death is a normal part of living and
in fact you accept death when you accept birth in fact death birth and dying or
all part of the same continuum and that it’s going to happen to us
and it’s nothing to be afraid of or fearful of what you have to do is like
when you go into an exam you want to be prepared for it well when you go into
the final exam of death want to be prepared for it and then you
can talk about the phenomena which occur and so on but it’s so important that we
stopped this process of sweeping it under the carpet and you know why we
sweep it under the carpet because we don’t die like we used to
if this was a Victorian family I would already have two or three siblings that
had died when young we did no antibiotics looking keeping the place
keen and stopping infections was very poorly done so people died and kids
particularly so death was ever-present so the Victorians were much better
talking about him than we were have you ever seen a horse going along the road
in our culture now what’s it followed by cars at a distance behind it going
slowly no they’ve all got their fingers on the horns come on move on get on
it’s not respected do you stand with your arms crossed and your head barred
when the horse goes by no of course you don’t you’ve got many things which are
much more important than that because you don’t value death simple as that but
it’s very important nothing strange about it we’re all going to do it so we
might learn about it simple doctor Fenwick thank you very much for your time
and your interesting insights and the wisdom from your research thank you very
much well thank you very much for your questions you