November 1986

Childhood Near-Death Experiences

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Pediatrics (Drs Morse, Castillo, Venecia, Milstein, and Tyler), Anesthesiology (Dr Tyler), and Neurology (Dr Milstein), University of Washington School of Medicine and Children's Orthopedic Hospital and Medical Center, Seattle.

Am J Dis Child. 1986;140(11):1110-1114. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1986.02140250036031

• We nonselectively interviewed 11 patients aged 3 through 16 years who had survived critical illnesses, including cardiac arrests and profound comas. Any memory of a time they were unconscious was considered to be a near-death experience (NDE) and was recorded. Seven of these children had memories that included (1) being out of the physical body (six patients), (2) entering darkness (five patients), (3) being in a tunnel (four patients), and (4) deciding to return to the body (three patients). We also interviewed 29 age-matched survivors of illnesses that required intubation, narcotics, benzodiazepines, and admission to an intensive care unit. None of them had any memories of the time they were unconscious. In our study population, NDEs were clearly associated with surviving a critical illness. The elements of NDEs reported are similar to those previously described in adults. No children described elements of depersonalization as part of their NDEs. A core NDE, triggered by the process of dying or resuscitation efforts, may be a natural developmental experience. We present a neurophysiologic hypothesis as to the cause of NDEs.

(AJDC 1986;140:1110-1114)