John B. Alexander
Past President of International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS)
After Death is a valuable contribution to the rapidly growing body of literature and media presentations regrading life after death or continuation of consciousness.
A significant factor in this movie is the recurring commentary by Dr. Michael Sabom, one of the pioneers in researching near-death experiences (NDEs). Dr. Sabom was one of those who met with Dr. Raymond Moody, Dr. Bruce Greyson, Ken Ring, Ph.D., and John Audette that led to the founding of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). As he states in the movie and is consistent with his comments over 40 years ago, Dr. Sabom was a true skeptic who became convinced of the reality of NDEs based on the evidence he gathered during a multi-year study.
While most of the NDE reports came well after the cited incident, he was different. As a cardiologist, Dr. Sabom noted that he had been present when many patients were resuscitated and had not heard any reports of NDEs or similar events. After reaching out to other health care practitioners, he began to hear such recantations and also learned that many of those who had an NDE were reluctant to discuss the topic for fear of ridicule. Unfortunately, that ridicule often came from their doctors and clergy. Until Dr. Raymond Moody’s groundbreaking book, Life After Life, was published, few people dared openly discuss their NDEs. Often, these extraordinary encounters were not even shared with family members.
Admittedly, I am biased on this topic. Before proceeding further, the reader should know I am a past president of IANDS and know some of the people in the film. Several of those both in the film and mentioned in it I consider personal friends. Further, the head of my doctoral committee was the legendary Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who, in the 1970’s was also a pioneer in the embryonic field of NDEs. Elisabeth was largely responsible for advancing the hospice movement in America. Her landmark book was On Death and Dying, and she is the one who developed the famous five stages model.
After Death presents many NDEs including what I consider two of the most significant ever recorded. From a technical perspective, the Pam Reynolds case is extremely significant. While most NDEs happen spontaneously, Pam Reynolds was completely instrumented at the time of her NDE. As After Death portrays, during her cranial operation for an aneurism deep in her brain, Pam had no breathing, no heart rate, and no cortical brain functioning. In medical terms, that is usually know as death. What is presented in the film is very significant but there was even more to the story. Not mentioned was that Pam reported that she thought the music choice, Hotel California was not quite appropriate (You can check out anytime, but you can never leave).
In After Death, the narrative is given by Dr. Robert Spetzier who was the neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix who conducted the operation. His account is supported by Dr. Karl Green who also attended Pam Reynolds. Not mentioned is that it was Dr. Sabom who popularized the case in his poignant book, Light and Death. Also not mentioned his Pam’s encounters with deceased relatives during her NDE. The significance of that case cannot be overstated. There are very few NDE cases in which researchers can access the medical condition of the patient. While exceedingly rare, there are other cases such that of anesthesiologist Rajiv Parti. His life-changing case can be read in his book, Dying to Wake Up.
Mary Neal’s case is also extremely important. We have met at several IANDS conferences and I consider her to be extremely compelling. Though she appears in the film, some of the most extraordinary evidence was omitted. With multiple witnesses, it is known that she was under water far longer than she could hold her breath. Bluntly, she drowned in her kayak. Also omitted was the extent of injuries to her body as both legs were broken above her knees and precognitively she received accurate information that about events that would come to pass years later. In fact, when I spoke with her at the 2022 IANDS conference in Salt Lake City, she mentioned that some of the foretold events had yet to occur but were personal in nature.
While the film focuses on the consciousness aspects of NDEs, there are physical miracles associate with her case that are simply mind boggling. As an example, after her body was recovered, two unknown young men appeared and helped transport her to a waiting ambulance. It is important to note there were no ambulances in that remote part of Chile. Yet, there was one waiting on the otherwise deserted road to take her to the nearest hospital. All readers are strongly encouraged to read Dr. Mary Neal’s full accounting in her captivating and informative book To Heaven and Back.
After Death does feature another important NDE researcher, Dr. Jeffery Long, who has been instrumental in providing information about life after death to the public. Jeff and his wife Jody (a retired attorney not shown) created and maintain the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) which has a web site with over 5000 cases, all available to the public online. Known to few people is that Jeff and Jody were able to keep the NDERF functioning even when a hurricane displaced them from their damaged Louisiana home.
There are comments and pronouncements of concern. For example, in After Death it is claimed, that “23 percent of NDEs have Hellish experiences.” That is even mentioned in the trailer for the movie. That needs to be substantiated as it runs counter to every report on negative experiences ever researched. Of particular concern is the “Hellish” criteria. While distressing NDEs do happen and have been reported, they were found to be relatively rare. Most researchers put distressing NDEs at five percent or lower and that includes all forms of psychological concerns, not necessarily religiously (Hell) related.
A similar comment, also contained both in the movie and the trailer, is “that since 2001, the number of people who doubt the existence of life after death has nearly doubled.” That too should be substantiated as it is counterintuitive to all of the publicity that NDEs have received. When IANDs was started, seeing serious information about NDEs on television or in major movie scripts was quite rare. For that past couple of decades there have been many mainstream news programs carrying objective stories, and life after death a significant theme in several major motion pictures. Most of us who study the field of continuation of consciousness believe the times they are a changing, and in a positive direction.
After Death is a welcome addition, as it joins the ranks of documentaries that explore one of life’s most enduring questions, “What happens when we die?” The graphics department has done an excellent job in providing context for the inevitably ineffable description afforded by those who have had an NDE. Viewers should stay through the credits, as there is a short roundtable discussion conducted by several of the key participants.
John B. Alexander, Ph.D.
Los Alamos National Laboratory (Retired)