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What Happens When We Die?

Published November 15, 2019

NEW YORK, November 15, 2019 – On Monday, November 18th the New York Academy of Sciences and the Critical Care and Resuscitation Research Program at NYU Langone will present a two part event titled “What Happens When We Die?” at the Academy’s offices in downtown Manhattan.

Death is a universal human experience, yet it remains one of life’s great mysteries. Traditionally viewed as an absolute irreversible endpoint, recent scientific studies have shown brain cells to be resilient to the effects of oxygen deprivation after the heart stops and a person dies. This has led to a major paradigm shift in science, as we now understand that death may be reversible, even hours after it has taken place. This insight opens up new opportunities for treatments to save “lives” and “brains” beyond cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Intriguingly, many people report experiencing consciousness and cognitive activity after the heart stops, raising questions regarding current models of the nature of consciousness.

During the symposium, clinicians and researchers will discuss recent findings that have upended conventional notions about the nature of brain injury and death. These include a recent study from Yale, in which brain function was restored in 32 post-mortem pig brains four or more hours after death, and the AWAreness during REsuscitation (AWARE) II study, which is exploring what happens to the mind and consciousness at the time of cardiac arrest and clinical death. This study has already recruited 500 cardiac arrest subjects and is currently the largest of its type across 20 American and European hospitals. A complimentary upcoming project explores consciousness and cognitive activity in patients undergoing Deep Hypothermic Circulatory Arrest (DHCA), a medical technique that biologically mimics cardiac arrest and death through cooling a patient’s body temperature to around 20 degrees Celsius.

“Death is one of the few universal experiences guaranteed to every human. Yet the end of life is also one of life’s great mysteries, and research that seeks to illuminate the complex processes of death in the brain, body, mind and consciousness has wide-reaching ethical, social, and philosophical implications,” explained Dr. Parnia. “This symposium and panel discussion will bring together leading physicians and researchers in disciplines ranging from critical care and neurology to neuroscience and psychology, to chart a course for new directions in the study of resuscitation and consciousness. Clearly, the recalled experience surrounding death now merits further genuine investigation without prejudice.” Provocative, surprising, and challenging, these new avenues of research may inform strategies for improving quality survival, yet they also carry significant implications for organ donation programs, end-of-life decision-making, and understanding the nature of human consciousness.

Following the afternoon symposium, Dr. Parnia will moderate an evening panel discussion entitled “What Happens When We Die? Surviving Cardiac Arrest.” The panel will explore the complex processes of death in the brain and body, and illuminate the bioethical implications of this new understanding for end-of-life planning, organ donation programs, and more.

Speakers and panelists for the two-part program include:

  • Lance Becker, MD, FAHA, The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research on “Cardiac Arrest and Post-Cardiac Arrest Syndrome: A Historical Review and Future Directions”
  • Ariane Lewis, MD, NYU Langone Health on “Critically Ill Brain in Cardiac Arrest”
  • Samuel Tisherman, MD, University of Maryland School of Medicine on “Suspended Animation”
  • Daniele Stefano MD, PhD Candidate. Yale University School of Medicine “Restoring Function to the Brain after Death”
  • Cherie Amie, Cardiac Arrest Survivor, on “The Experience of Cardiac Arrest Survival”
  • Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, NYU School of Medicine on “Consciousness, Awareness & Psychological Outcomes after Cardiac Arrest”
  • Peter B. Forgacs, MD, Weill Cornell Medicine on “Consciousness and Recovery”
  • Shari Brosnahan, MD, NYU Langone Health on “Neuroprotection Strategies for Cardiac Arrest”
  • Tom Aufderheide, MD, MS, FACEP, FACC, FAHA, internationally recognized researcher in emergency cardiac care at the Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, distinguished happiness research psychologist at the University of California, Riverside
  • Stephan Mayer, MD, FCCM, world expert in neurological intensive care at Wayne State School of Medicine
  • Sarah Perman, MD, a leader in resuscitation science and post-cardiac arrest care at the University of Colorado School of Medicine

You can register to attend the afternoon symposium “What Happens When We Die? Insights from Resuscitation Science” here, or the evening panel discussion “What Happens When We Die? Surviving Cardiac Arrest” here. Both portions of the event will also be available to remote audiences via the Academy’s Livestream channel.

About New York Academy of Sciences

The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been committed to advancing science, technology, and society worldwide. With more than 20,000 members in 100 countries around the world, the Academy is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. The Academy's core mission is to advance scientific knowledge, positively impact the major global challenges of society with science-based solutions, and increase the number of scientifically informed individuals in society at large. Please visit us online at

The New York University Langone Health Critical Care and Resuscitation Program

The New York University Langone Health Critical Care and Resuscitation Program is dedicated to researching methods to save the lives and brains of people who undergo cardiac arrest. Led by its director, Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine, division of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine, at NYU School of Medicine, the program brings together a multi-disciplinary team of experts across many specialties, including neurology, cardiology, and intensive care. Together, they hope to improve cardiac arrest prevention and treatment, as well as address the impact of new scientific discoveries on our understanding of what happens at death.


Robert Birchard

Content Development Specialist