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19.8.03

The August issue of Reader's Digest has an article (not available online) about near-death experiences (NDEs). The article suggests that NDEs are evidence for the existence of a soul, and that naturalistic explanations are insufficient. I wrote a research paper in 9th grade arguing this point, though since then I've become somewhat more skeptical and much more aware of the limits of my knowledge of neuroscience. But what interested me in this article was a paragraph near the end:

What does it mean if the mind persists after the brain is dead? Should we, for instance, rethink the harvesting of organs for transplant from the "brain-dead"?


If anything, I would think that the existence of a soul that is separable from the body would make organ donation more appealing. For many people, their opposition to organ donation is rooted in a feeling that their organs are a part of them. But as one survivor in the article said, "... it's not really me, it's just my body." If a person's identity is fully contained within the soul, giving away a kidney would be no different from giving a shirt to the Salvation Army. Note that the first element of an NDE (and hence presumably the first element of a real, final death) is an out-of-body-experience, looking on your own body from above. Then the soul leaves the body behind to go into the tunnel with the light.

The article's concern about organ donation is probably based on the possibility of recussitation after medical death. It's justifiable to be leery of taking organs from someone who might not have passed away for good. But this concern is unrelated to the question of whether there is a soul that keeps on going after death. The fact that "dead" people have been brought back -- and hence that medical judgements of death aren't carved in stone -- is a fact regardless of whether there is a soul.

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