Sam Parnia

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Sam Parnia
London, England
Alma materGuys and St. Thomas' Medical School (MBBS), University of Southampton (Ph.D.), University of London and Weill Cornell Medical Center (residency)
Known forResearch on near-death experiences and cardiopulmonary resuscitation
Scientific career
FieldsIntensive-care medicine
InstitutionsNew York University Grossman School of Medicine, New York

Sam Parnia is a British[1] associate professor of Medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center where he is also director of research into cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In the United Kingdom, he is director of the Human Consciousness Project at the University of Southampton. Parnia is known for his work on near-death experiences and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Education and career[edit]

Parnia graduated from Guy's and St. Thomas' Medical School in London, where he received his MBBS in 1995.[2][3] He then pursued further studies at the University of Southampton, working as a clinical research fellow and obtaining a PhD in cell biology in 2007.[4][5] He maintained an honorary research fellow title at the University of Southampton and continued his collaboration through the Human Consciousness Project, which he founded and directs.[6][7]

After completing his fellowship training in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of London and the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City in 2010, Parnia joined the faculty at Stony Brook University School of Medicine as a member of the Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Division.[6] He also leads research on cardiopulmonary resuscitation at Stony Brook University.[6][8] His British medical qualifications were recognized as a medical degree by the State of New York in 2012.[3] In 2013, he published the book "Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death," which provides an updated overview of cardiac resuscitation.[9] Since 2015, he has been the director of the Critical Care & Resuscitation Research Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center.[10]

Additionally, Parnia has served as the chairman of the Horizon Research Foundation, a charity founded in 1987 to support research and education in the fields of death, cardiac arrest, mind, brain, and consciousness studies[11] As of 2018, the charity has ceased to exist.[11]


Optimization of brain resuscitation after cardiac arrest[edit]

Parnia is known for his involvement and research in the field of emergency medicine and cardiac arrest resuscitation.[12][13] He conducts research on, and advocates for wider application of, best practices for resuscitation when people die; namely better, perhaps automated cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques, the use of targeted temperature management, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, brain oximetry, and prevention of reperfusion injury, and wrote his book, Erasing Death (published in the United Kingdom as the Lazarus Effect) as part of that effort.[2][12] He says that many people who are actually dead from heart attacks or blood loss could be resuscitated up to 24 hours after their decease if contemporary best practices as defined by the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation were used promptly.[12]

The main focus of Parnia's research has been in the optimization of brain monitoring and oxygen delivery methods with a goal of reducing long-term brain injuries as well as disorders of consciousness such as a persistent vegetative state.[14] In order to avoid these disabilities, Parnia believes the study of consciousness should be a routine part of cardiac arrest brain injury research.[15] The other side of his work, which he conducts with a team at the State University of New York and across multiple other medical centers in the United Kingdom, is consciousness during cardiac arrest. This includes near-death experiences.[2][13][12][16]

Consciousness and near death experience research[edit]

Parnia has advocated for the use of the term "actual death experience" instead of near death experience (NDE), to describe human experiences that occur during a period of cardiac arrest. He has stated: “contrary to perception, death is not a specific moment but a potentially reversible process that occurs after any severe illness or accident causes the heart, lungs and brain to cease functioning. If attempts are made to reverse this process, it is referred to as ‘cardiac arrest’; however, if these attempts do not succeed it is called ‘death’. He has mostly studied those who have no heart beat and no detectable brain activity for periods of time and believes cardiac arrest is the optimal model to help understand the human experience of death.[2][17][18]

In 2001, Parnia and colleagues published the results of a year-long study of cardiac arrest survivors. 63 survivors were interviewed; 7 had memories of the time they were unconscious and 4 had experiences that, according to the study criteria, were NDEs. Out of body claims were tested by placing figures on suspended boards facing the ceiling, not visible from the floor. No positive results were reported, and no conclusions could be drawn due to the small number of subjects.[19]

AWAreness during REsuscitation (AWARE) study[edit]

While at University of Southampton, Parnia was the principal investigator of the AWARE Study, which was launched in 2008.[13] This study which concluded in 2012 included 33 investigators across 15 medical centers in the UK, Austria and the USA and tested consciousness, memories and awareness during cardiac arrest. The accuracy of claims of visual and auditory awareness was examined using specific tests.[20] One such test consisted in installing shelves, bearing a variety of images and facing the ceiling, hence not visible by hospital staff, in rooms where cardiac-arrest patients were more likely to occur.[21] The results of the study were published in October 2014; both the launch and the study results were widely discussed in the media.[21][22][23]

A review article analysing the results reports that, out of 2060 cardiac arrest events, 101 of 140 cardiac arrest survivors could complete the questionnaires. Of these 101 patients 9% could be classified as near death experiences. 2 more patients (2% of those completing the questionnaires) described "seeing and hearing actual events related to the period of cardiac arrest". These two patients' cardiac arrests did not occur in areas equipped with ceiling shelves hence no images could be used to objectively test for visual awareness claims. One of the two patients was too sick and the accuracy of her recount could not be verified. For the second patient instead, it was possible to verify the accuracy of the experience and to show that awareness occurred paradoxically some minutes after the heart stopped, at a time when "the brain ordinarily stops functioning and cortical activity becomes isoelectric." The experience was not compatible with an illusion, imaginary event or hallucination since visual (other than of ceiling shelves' images) and auditory awareness could be corroborated.[24]

Aware II study[edit]

As of May 2016, a posting at the UK Clinical Trials Gateway website describes plans for AWARE II, a two-year multicenter observational study of 900-1,500 patients experiencing cardiac arrest, with subjects being recruited as 1 August 2014 and a trial end date of 31 May 2017.[25][26]

Brain/mind hypotheses[edit]

Parnia and others have suggested that a mind that is mediated by, but not produced by, the brain, is a possible way to explain NDE.[5][27][28]

Science writer Mike McRae has noted "While Parnia's work contributes valuable data to understanding NDE as a cultural phenomenon, his speculations do indeed sit on the brink of pseudoscience."[29] Neurologist Michael O'Brien has written that "most people would not find it necessary to postulate such a separation between mind and brain to explain the events," and suggested that further research is likely to provide a physical explanation for near-death experiences.[5] Psychologist and lecturer Susan Blackmore appeared with Parnia and Peter Fenwick on a BBC documentary called "The Day I Died" and disagreed with their interpretations of NDEs, finding purely physical explanations to be more plausible.[5]

In a review article published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,[30] Parnia admits that the nature of consciousness is still uncharted territory for science. Two different major models have been postulated about the nature of consciousness:

  1. one envisages the psyche/consciousness/mind (self) as the result of neuronal activity. So a causative relationship exists between cortical activity and consciousness.
  2. the other instead considers that consciousness is separate from the brain and can influence brain activity independently of the brain.

Parnia explains that the observations that "the human mind, consciousness, or psyche (self) may continue to function when brain function has ceased during the early period after death" (such as during the AWARE study, but not only) points to the possibility that the second model may have to be taken into account.[30]

See also[edit]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • What Happens When We Die. Hay House. 2007. ISBN 9781401907112.
  • Erasing Death: The Science That is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death. Harper Collins. 2013. ISBN 9780062080608.
  • The Lazarus Effect: The Science That is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death. Rider. 2013. ISBN 9781846043079.
Research publications
Reviews and editorials


  1. ^ Adams, Tim (2013-04-06). "Sam Parnia – the man who could bring you back from the dead". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-09-26.
  2. ^ a b c d Adams, Tim (6 April 2013). "Sam Parnia – the man who could bring you back from the dead". Health: The Observer. The Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  3. ^ a b The State Education Department. The University of The State of New York. Report of the Committee on the Professions Regarding Licensing Petitions Albany, N.Y: October 2, 2012.
  4. ^ Hampshire Chronicle staff.Southampton University Graduation List 2007 Part 1. Ceremony 10: School of Medicine; Doctor of Philosophy Hampshire Chronicle, published online 23 Jul 2007. Page accessed, June 7, 2016
  5. ^ a b c d O'Brien, M (2003). "The Day I Died". BMJ (Review of TV show). 326 (7383): 288. doi:10.1136/bmj.326.7383.288. PMC 1125151.
  6. ^ a b c Nour Foundation, Speaker Profile. Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, MRCP. Page accessed April 25, 2016
  7. ^ Palchik Guillermo (2009). "Conference Report: The Nour Foundation Georgetown University & Blackfriars Hall, Oxford University Symposium Series Technology, Neuroscience & the Nature of Being: Considerations of Meaning, Morality and Transcendence Part I: The Paradox of Neurotechnology 8 May 2009". Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine. 4: 9. doi:10.1186/1747-5341-4-9. PMC 2717997. PMID 19615065.
  8. ^ Peikoff, Kira. CPR Survival Rates Can Differ Greatly by City. New York Times, published online 7 December 2015. Page accessed, May 18, 2016
  9. ^ Strodtman, L. K. (2013). Parnia, Sam. Erasing death: the science that is rewriting the boundaries between life and death. CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, 51(2), 302+.
  10. ^ "Research Gate public profile".
  11. ^ a b UK Charity Commission. 296655 - The International Association For Near-Death Studies UK Page accessed July 26, 2019
  12. ^ a b c d Evers, Marco (29 July 2013). "Back from the dead: Resuscitation expert says end is reversible". Der Spiegel.
  13. ^ a b c Stephey, M.J. (18 September 2008). "What happens when we die?". Time.
  14. ^ "der spiegel".
  15. ^ "NPR interview".
  16. ^ Gross, Terry (host); Parnia, Sam (20 February 2013). "'Erasing Death' Explores The Science Of Resuscitation". Fresh Air. NPR. WHYY-FM. Transcript.
  17. ^ Paulson S, Becker LB, Parnia S, Mayer SA (2014). "Reversing Death NYAS 2014". Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1330: 4–18. doi:10.1111/nyas.12475. PMID 25060142. S2CID 206224394.
  18. ^ French CC (2005). "Near-death experiences in cardiac arrest survivors". Prog. Brain Res. Progress in Brain Research. 150: 351–67. doi:10.1016/S0079-6123(05)50025-6. ISBN 9780444518514. PMID 16186035.
  19. ^ Parnia, Sam; Spearpoint, Ken; de Vos, Gabriele; Fenwick, Peter; Goldberg, Diana; Yang, Jie; Zhu, Jiawen; Baker, Katie; Killingback, Hayley (2014-12-01). "AWARE-AWAreness during REsuscitation-a prospective study". Resuscitation. 85 (12): 1799–1805. doi:10.1016/j.resuscitation.2014.09.004. ISSN 1873-1570. PMID 25301715.
  20. ^ a b Lichfield, Gideon (April 2015). "The science of near-death experiences: Empirically investigating brushes with the afterlife". The Atlantic.
  21. ^ Weintraub, Pamela (2 September 2014). "Seeing the light". Psychology Today.
  22. ^ Robb, Alice (8 October 2014). "The Scientists Studying Life After Death Are Not Total Frauds". The New Republic.
  23. ^ Parnia, Sam (2014-11-01). "Death and consciousness--an overview of the mental and cognitive experience of death". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1330: 75–93. doi:10.1111/nyas.12582. ISSN 1749-6632. PMID 25418460. S2CID 33091589.
  24. ^ AWARE II Research Summary Archived 2017-08-16 at the Wayback Machine on Health Research Authority website
  25. ^ UK Clinical Trials Gateway. Primary Trial ID Number 17129, entitled "AWARE II (AWAreness during REsuscitation) A Multi-Centre Observational Study of the Relationship between the Quality of Brain Resuscitation and Consciousness, Neurological, Functional and Cognitive Outcomes following Cardiac Arrest" Last updated May 3, 2016. Page archived May 9, 2016
  26. ^ Sleutjes A, Moreira-Almeida A, Greyson B (Nov 2014). "Almost 40 years investigating near-death experiences: an overview of mainstream scientific journals". J Nerv Ment Dis. 202 (11): 833–6. doi:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000205. PMID 25357254. S2CID 16765929.
  27. ^ Petre, Jonathan (22 October 2000). "Soul-searching doctors find life after death". The Telegraph. These people were having these experiences when we wouldn't expect them to happen, when the brain shouldn't be able to sustain lucid processes or allow them to form memories that would last. So it might hold an answer to the question of whether mind or consciousness is actually produced by the brain or whether the brain is a kind of intermediary for the mind, which exists independently.... I started off as a sceptic but, having weighed up all the evidence, I now think that there is something going on. Essentially, it comes back to the question of whether the mind or consciousness is produced from the brain. If we can prove that the mind is produced by the brain, I don't think there is anything after we die because essentially we are conscious beings. If, on the contrary, the brain is like an intermediary which manifests the mind, like a television will act as an intermediary to manifest waves in the air into a picture or a sound, we can show that the mind is still there after the brain is dead. And that is what I think these near-death experiences indicate
  28. ^ McRae, Mike (9 October 2014). "Science On the Edge of Life".
  29. ^ a b Parnia, Sam (2014-11-01). "Death and consciousness––an overview of the mental and cognitive experience of death". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1330 (1): 75–93. doi:10.1111/nyas.12582. ISSN 1749-6632. PMID 25418460. S2CID 33091589.