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Children and Near Death Experiences

Near Death Experiences Series, Article 9 (Reviewed by the Editorial Board)
 
Without doubt the most interesting group of individuals to have reported a near death experience ( NDE ) are children. Some investigators and commentators have argued that adults might have imagined NDEs based upon their own personal cultural and religious views, but published studies show that children were often too young to have formed an opinion regarding the afterlife, or even death itself.

 

Were children's experiences the same as those of adults or different in some way?
To date, the most research on near death experiences in children has been done by Dr Melvin Morse (1), an American pediatrician. He has looked at many critically ill children admitted to the intensive care unit and had found that some had in fact described near death experiences. These experiences had shared many of the same features as those of adults -- separating from the body, watching events, feeling peaceful, seeing a bright light and beings of light -- but had often been described in children's terminology and during the course of play, sometimes over many months.

 

The children's interpretation of what they had seen had been based upon their own level of comprehension, but it was nevertheless clear that they had had similar experiences to adults. Significantly, although some of the children described by Morse had been around nine or ten years old, others had been very young, just three to five years old. This group was certainly too young to have had any real concept of death and the afterlife and it was fascinating that they had had similar experiences to adults.

 

In one of his published scientific articles Morse had quoted a number of the children's NDEs. An eight-year-old boy who had almost drowned after his parents' car had swerved off an icy road into a river in Washington had reported: 'I could see the car filling up with water, and it covered me all up. Then everything went blank. Suddenly I was floating in the air. I felt like I could swim in the air.' He was very surprised to still be thinking, as he knew he must have died. He continued, 'Then I floated into the huge noodle. Well, I thought it was a noodle, but maybe it was a tunnel. Yeah, it must have been a tunnel because a noodle doesn't have a rainbow in it.'

 

A five-year-old girl whose heart had stopped had reported: 'I rose up in the air and saw a man like Jesus because he was nice and he was talking to me. I saw dead people, grandmas and grandpas, and babies waiting to be born. I saw a light like a rainbow which told me who I was and where I should go. Jesus told me it wasn't my time to die.'

 

The youngest case ever reported in the literature, was that of a six-month-old baby. This baby had been admitted to the intensive care unit of Massachusetts General Hospital with severe kidney failure. He had survived and been discharged home with his parents. As he was growing up his parents noticed that whenever he went through a tunnel he would have a panic attack. This happened for example if they were driving through a tunnel or when the child was playing with his siblings and went through a playground tunnel. Eventually, when he was four, his parents had attempted to explain the imminent death of his grandfather and he had said that he had died too and had related his experience in the ICU.

 

Conclusions
Critically ill children's experiences reported in the literature share many of the same features as those of adults, underscoring that these have not been imagined based upon the subjects' personal cultural and religious views. Again, these findings indicate that near death experiences have certain specific features which distinguish them from other mental states and experiences. In the upcoming articles we will look at some of the key questions that need to be examined to study a near death experience objectively and one of these (questions) is indeed the need of a research scale to classify them and differentiate from other mental states.

 

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(1) Morse ML. J Pediatr Oncol Nurs. 1994 Oct;11(4):139-44.  

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