Does the brain live on after death?

'Unexplained’ brain activity detected in a dead patient


Doctors have found scientific evidence that people’s brains can continue to show signs of life after they have been declared clinically dead.

Canadian doctors studied the vital signs of four patients in intensive care after their life-support machines were switched off 

One patient showed persistent brain activity for ten minutes after their heart stopped and experienced brain waves we normally get during deep sleep.

Brainwave bursts persisted after the heart had stopped and the patient was clinically dead.

Brain inactivity preceded the heart stopping in the other three cases.

The researchers from the University of Western Ontario described the case as both ‘extraordinary’ and ‘unexplained’.

‘In one patient, single delta wave bursts persisted following the cessation of both the cardiac rhythm and arterial blood pressure (ABP),’ the researchers said.

“Single delta wave bursts, often associated with deep sleep, were recorded ten minutes after a patient was declared clinically 'dead' 

There were significant differences in electrical activity in the brain between the 30-minute period before and the 5-minute period after the heart stopped.

It is difficult to posit a physiological basis for this EEG [brain] activity given that it occurs after a prolonged loss of circulation”.

Their findings were published in the Canadian Journal for Neurological Science.

The experiment raises difficult questions about when someone is dead and therefore when it is medically and ethically correct to use them for organ donation.

As many as a fifth of people who survive cardiac arrests report having had ‘other-worldly’ experiences while being ‘clinically dead’.

This may have been caused by continuing brain activity.

However, scientists say it’s far too early to be talking about what this could mean for the post-death experience - especially considering it was only seen in one patient.

In 2013, a similar phenomenon was found in experiments on rats whose hearts had stopped.

The research, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed rats had a burst of brain activity one minute after decapitation.

The pattern of activity was similar to that seen when the animals were fully conscious - except signals were up to eight times stronger.

The researchers said that the discovery that the brain is highly active in the seconds after the heart stops suggests that the phenomenon has a physical, rather than spiritual nature.

But they don’t really have an answer as yet.


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