Last year Dr. Eben Alexander published a work called Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. The title pretty much sums it up: Alexander claims that while he was in a medical coma combating a case of bacterial meningitis he experienced visions of the afterlife.
The book sold 2 million copies, earned him a Newsweek cover story and an appearance on Oprah. Now some of the basic claims are being questioned.
Luke Dittrich at Esquire Magazine has spoken to people like Dr. Laura Potter, a doctor who treated Alexander during his meningitis. Dittrich is arguing that Alexander’s summary of the facts of his case is inaccurate, and thus the whole story now smells off.
What Esquire smells is money, so they’ve put this article behind a one time pay-wall. Fortunately we can piece together some of the arguments from the coverage. The Atlantic Wire has this extract:
In Proof of Heaven, Alexander writes that he spent seven days in “a coma caused by a rare case of E. coli bacterial meningitis.” There is no indication in the book that it was Laura Potter, and not bacterial meningitis, that induced his coma, or that the physicians in the ICU maintained his coma in the days that followed through the use of anesthetics. Alexander also writes that during his week in the ICU he was present “in body alone,” that the bacterial assault had left him with an “all-but-destroyed brain.” He notes that by conventional scientific understanding, “if you don’t have a working brain, you can’t be conscious,” and a key point of his argument for the reality of the realms he claims to have visited is that his memories could not have been hallucinations, since he didn’t possess a brain capable of creating even a hallucinatory conscious experience.
I ask Potter whether the manic, agitated state that Alexander exhibited whenever they weaned him off his anesthetics during his first days of coma would meet her definition of conscious.
“Yes,” she says. “Conscious but delirious.”
The Daily Mail (yes, I know) includes this:
In one chapter Dr. Alexander writes about screaming out ‘God help me!’, a claim contradicted by the emergency room physician treating him that day.
Dr. Laura Potter said she had no recollection of him crying out, plus she had intubated him – making it impossible for him to speak.
Alexander also writes that he slipped into the coma as a result of E. coli bacterial meningitis and had no higher brain activity, while Dr. Potter says the coma was medically induced and the patient was conscious, though hallucinating.
Apparently Dittrich also suggests that Alexander’s history as a doctor of neuro
science-surgery is “troubled,” but I don’t care much about that. If he misstated the medical condition he was in, then his claims are undermined. But, frankly, the best evidence that Alexander is full of bunk is this picture:
Congratulations, Oprah, you backed another sham.