Jackie Levine, a Vienna, Va. nurse, was believed to be near death following surgery 12 years ago when she said she had an "out-of-the-body" experience and saw a "misty figure" with outstreatched arms whose presence produced a "warm, cozy, peaceful, loving" feeling.
"I felt a soft touch, which I can't describe with adequate words," she told a conference on death and dying here yesterday. "I was raising up off my bed, not too high. My husband had been asked to call a minister and (while in he out-of-the-body state) I saw the minister standing over me, tears streaming down his face."
Mrs. Levine, who regained consciousness a short time later, revealed her story publicly ofr the first time yesterday as a panelist at the St. Francis Burial Society's second annual conference on "Death: Before, During and After."
Like Mrs. Levine, hundreds of people have begun discussing their own "near-death" experiences since Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who has pioneered new attitudes toward treatment of the dying, announced two years ago that she had interviewed dozens of patients who had been declared clinically dead, described conscious experiences they had in an altered state and then "came back to life."
Dr. Ross's affirmations about "life after death" have been received warily in medical and theological circles. Another well-known investigator of "near-death" phenomena, Dr. Raymond Moody, has been more tentative in his conclusions.
"What I have done is not a properly systematic scientific investigation," he explained to a full house at the National Presbysterian Church here Friday night. "Nor is it proof of life after death . . . I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything . . . I simply find these experiences intrinsically fascinating" and worth exploring.
The soft-spoken Dr. Moody, who has a doctor's degree in philosophy as well as in medicine and is on leave from his psychiatric residency at the University of Virginia medical school, is the author of "Life After Life," which has sold close to 2 million copies in the past year. A sequel, "Reflections on Life After Life," will be out in May and then, Dr. Moody, said he is going to end his research and let others take over.
He conceded, however, in his lecture that "because people always want to know how I feel, that subjectively - and this is only Raymond Moody speaking - I personally accept that there is survival of bodily death."
Danion Brinkley, one of the subjects who led Moody to determine that there are 15 common auditory, visual and physical elements occur in "near death" experience, was struck by lightning in the back of his neck 18 months ago while talking on the telephone.
"I had to be resuscitated three times between the time my wife found me and they got me to the hospital," the 27-year-old said in an interview yesterday. "I was passing between this reality and that reality . . . It was excruciating pain because the lightning had friend my nervous system. I had been flung around the room and bounced off the ceiling, floor and wall when it happened . . . Then I saw this 'being of light.' It was the purest light I've never seen. It wasn't a physical being."
"I went to a place that was blue and gray, calm and peaceful," said Brinkley, of Aiken, S.C. "You simultaneously experienced every emotion you have ever had and your conscious mind puts it into words later."
Another panelist, Dr. William Richards, a spychologist at the University of Maryland Psychiatric Research Center who works with cancer patients treated with psychedelic drugs for pain and anxiety, said "the whole phenomenon (of altered states of consciousness) is much more common than we tend to think. People are more afraid to talk about them than they need be."
"There are many very interesting parallels between these near-death experiences and descriptions by cancer patients on psychedelic drugs," he said.
"I do not think a really adequate experiment can be designed to test the validity of this type of experience," he said. "The validity for the people who have them comes from an intuitive rather than analytic certainty."