Ian Stevenson and Near-death Experiences
by Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D.
I once heard Stevenson say that he was collecting and studying near-death experience (NDE) cases before Raymond Moody had made them popular. However, Stevenson published his main work after Moody’s Life After Life (1975).
His first important paper was a remarkable defense of the importance of NDEs for the issue of survival of bodily death (Stevenson & Greyson, 1979). More than its argument, the remarkable part was that it was published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, an extremely conservative publication in American medicine. This was followed by one of the first modern NDE research papers to be published by a prestigious medical journal. In this paper, Greyson and Stevenson (1980) presented a study of NDE features that has been widely cited in the field of NDE studies.
In later studies Stevenson made another important contribution. He and his colleagues examined the differences between NDEs in which there was medical evidence of a threat to life as compared with those cases without such evidence (Owen, Cook, & Stevenson, 1990; Stevenson, Cook & McLean-Rice, 19891990). As he wrote in the second paper, “it seems likely that an important precipitator of the ‘near-death experience’ is the belief that one is dying whether or not one is in fact close to death” (p. 45).
Another study focused on NDEs in India (Stevenson & Pasricha, 1986). The authors compared Indian cases to American ones and concluded that while there seemed to be features of the cases related to specific cultures, it is premature to conclude that NDEs are produced solely by the beliefs of the experiencers.
Greyson, B., & Stevenson, I. (1980). The Phenomenology of Near-Death Experiences. American Journal of Psychiatry, 137, 11931196.
Moody, R. (1975). Life After Life. Atlanta, GA: Mockingbird Books.
Owen, J. W., Cook, E. W., & Stevenson, I. (1990). Features of “Near-Death Experience” in Relation to Whether or Not Patients Were Near Death. Lancet, 336, 11751177.
Stevenson, I., Cook, E. W., & McLean-Rice, N. (19891990). Are Persons Reporting “Near-Death Experiences” Really Near Death? A Study of Medical Records. Omega, 20, 4554.
Stevenson, I., & Greyson, B. (1979). Near-Death Experiences: Relevance to the Question of Survival after Death. Journal of the American Medical Association, 242, 265267.
Stevenson, I. , & Pasricha, S. (1986). Near-Death Experiences in India: A Preliminary Report. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 174, 165170.