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Comments on NDE Experiment: Ethical Concerns


Chris French

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 33.5, September / October 2009

I think this article raises an interesting issue, but ultimately I find the arguments unconvincing for a number of reasons, a few of which I will briefly summarize here.

First, the argument rests on the assumption that the outcome is already known, i.e., none of the patients will correctly describe the hidden target. While it is clear from my own writings on this topic (e.g., French 2005, in press) that I think this is almost certainly true, I think it is important for skeptics to acknowledge that they just might be wrong.

Second, a reasonable case can be made that there is a risk attached to not asking such patients about any unusual experiences they may have had during their cardiac arrest. Many patients report that they find it very stressful trying to talk to people about their NDEs, worried that others will think they are “crazy.” There is some value to patients being reassured that such experiences are fairly common and are not associated with mental illness.

Third, this line of argument, if taken to its logical conclusion, would seem to have implications for other lines of research involving autobiographical memory of all kinds. For example, memory of dramatic news events (so-called “flashbulb memories”) have been much studied by psychologists. Is it really the case that a psychologist studying such memories has actually started the experiment from the moment that the dramatic news event in question occurs as opposed to the moment she questions her participants about their memory of the event? I would say not.


Chris French

Chris French is professor of psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London. His latest book is Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Beliefs & Experience.