The Dawning of the Age of IANDS
“I don’t believe it!”
That was all cardiologist Dr. Michael Sabom could say in 1976 about the recently-published book, Life After Life when psychiatric social worker Sarah Kreutziger brought it to his attention.
Dr. Sabom was an enigma. A scientist to the core of his being, he was also a regular church-goer who accepted the church’s doctrines of an afterlife because he believed they helped guide proper behaviour. At the same time, he recognized that faith was totally subjective and unscientific, and insisted there were “no such things as inexplicable phenomena, but merely scientific facts waiting to be discovered.”
When colleague Sarah Kreutziger accepted an invitation to do a presentation of Moody’s book at their local church, she asked Dr. Sabom to participate. He was reluctant, but eventually agreed to be available at the presentation to deal with any medical questions the audience might have.
Kreutziger loaned him her copy of the book. He read it, but remained unconvinced. He later wrote in Recollections of Death: “My indoctrinated scientific mind just couldn’t relate seriously to these ‘far-out’ descriptions of afterlife spirits and such.”
Kreutziger appears to have been very persuasive. She suggested that in preparation for the talk, it might be helpful if they both conducted surveys of hospitalized patients who had survived a medical crisis. He was convinced no-one would report such an experience, but at least he would be able to tell the audience with a sense of satisfaction that: “We asked!”
The third patient Dr. Sabom interviewed turned his world upside down!
“To my utter amazement,” he wrote, “the details matched the descriptions in Life After Life. I was even more impressed by [the patient’s] sincerity and the deep personal significance her experience had had for her.”
Of course, before revealing her secret, this woman initially needed to be convinced that this curious doctor was not “an underground psychiatrist posing as a cardiologist.” In those days, people who experienced an NDE rarely, if ever, told their stories to anyone for fear of being dismissed as crazy. Until Dr. Moody’s book became a world-wide success, most presumed their experience had been unique to them.
Life After Life gave them permission to say “Yes! That’s what happened to me, I’m not the only one!”
Sabom thought often about that first NDE he heard, and of the woman whose life had been changed by it. Little did he realize that his own life was also about to change dramatically.
Uncomfortable with the unscientific manner in which Moody’s data had been collected and analyzed, he contacted Sarah again and together they designed a scientific study with rigorous guidelines. This study commenced only a few months after the initial publication of Life After Life and continued for five years.
It took many more interviews before Sabom was convinced. For years, he insisted that NDEs were “near” death experiences, not “after” death experiences, and therefore doubted they had anything to do with the afterlife.
In The Light Beyond (Moody and Perry, 1988) Sabom wrote: “I can’t tell you at what point I believed that this was really occurring. It took a lot of people with NDEs. But when they all started telling basically the same story… the first thing that went through my mind with these people was: ‘You have read Raymond Moody’s book, haven’t you?’”
Then he added: “And the patients hadn’t!”
While Sabom and Krutziger were conducting their studies in Florida, 2,000 kilometers north, in Connecticut, a young psychologist was going through a period of soul-searching.
Kenneth Ring was feeling spiritually adrift. While volunteering his services in a convalescent home in the hope of absorbing the wisdom of some older, wiser person, he chanced to read Life After Life.
Ring’s interest in altered states of consciousness had already brought the work of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to his attention, who had provided him with an awareness of NDEs before Moody’s book was even written. He therefore had no argument with the contents of Life After Life. In fact, he was inspired by it.
But, like his colleague in Florida, he was also aware that a more scientifically structured study would strengthen these findings. He designed a series of questions that Dr. Moody had not addressed.
Not surprisingly, these questions were almost identical to those Dr. Sabom was asking in Florida.
- How common were these NDE’s? Did everyone who came close to death go through this process, or only a few?
- Were NDE’s the same for those who died as a result of an accident, suffered serious illness, or attempted suicide?
- Did NDE’s only happen to those who believed in an afterlife, and did faith contribute to the imagery in these experiences?
- What were their social, educational and professional backgrounds?
Ring secured the names of 102 patients aged between eighteen and eighty-four who had survived a close call with death or had been resuscitated from clinical death.
During the thirteen months he spent interviewing these survivors, he heard NDE reports from 49 of them, which was almost half this sample. The remaining 53 survivors did not recall experiencing an NDE, but were still interviewed to serve as a ‘control’ group.
Meanwhile, back in Florida, Sabom and Kreutziger interviewed 116 people, and after dismissing those who had voluntarily come forward to report their nde’s, 78 participants remained. Of these, 34 (about 44%) reported a near death experience.
In 1977, Drs. Moody, Ring and Sabom met at the University of Virginia, along with medical sociologist John Audette, Bruce Greyson (Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioural Sciences of the University of Virginia) and other interested health professionals.
When the group convened, it was clear that both health care professionals and experiencers alike could benefit greatly from an organization dedicated to the research and education of NDEs. Such an organization could offer informational and networking support.
This core group formed the Association for the Scientific Study of Near-Death Phenomena, which changed its name to the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) in 1981.