Some short notes from J. Steve Miller, Near-Death Experiences As Evidences for the Existence of God and Heaven: A Brief Introduction in Plain Language (Acworth, GA: Wisdom Creek Press, 2012):
The first known attempt to pull together accounts of people’s deathbed visions was by Sir William Barrett, professor of experimental physics at Ireland’s Royal College of Science. His study was prompted by his wife (who was a physician), who rushed home to tell Sir William about a remarkable vision seen by Doris, a lady who was about to die after giving birth to her child. Doris spoke with great delight about seeing her deceased father. Then, with a rather puzzled expression, she said, “He has Vida with him.” Doris turnebodd toward her and repeated, “Vida is with him.” She soon died.
Doris’ sister Vida had died three weeks before, but nobody had told Doris, due to her state of health.
Three large-scale studies of deathbed visions were done in the second half of the twentieth century. The first study collected and analyzed the reports of nurses and doctors concerning over 35,000 patients. A second gathered about 50,000 reports. These were both American studies. Later, a third study compared 255 reports of deathbed visions in India. Amazingly, “the results from the Indian survey were in agreement with results from the earlier surveys on almost all points.”
Here are some data points that emerge from these studies, taken altogether:
- Those who said that the deceased relatives or angelic beings had come for the purpose of taking them away, tended to die sooner than the ones who merely spoke of seeing beings on the other side.
- Sometimes those visions were reported by people who were not expected to die, thus ruling out expectations as the cause. A college-educated Indian man, still in his 20s, was doing very well after a hospitalization. He was to be discharged that day and both the doctor and the patient fully expected a recovery. Suddenly the patient shouted, “Someone is standing here dressed in white clothes. I will not go with you!” He died within ten minutes.
J. Steve Miller’s comment about these studies is worth quoting here:
If these visions were caused by culturally influenced expectations, you’d expect them to differ vastly from person to person and culture to culture. Their high degree of convergence would seem to fit better with a spiritual explanation (there is an afterlife) than a purely naturalistic explanation (there is no afterlife). (65-66)