By Jenny Hope | DailyMail.Co.Uk
For centuries, those brought back from death's door have claimed they had a glimpse of the afterlife.
They speak of seeing a tunnel, a light, dead relatives, or their own lives flashing before their eyes.
Some even recall floating out of their bodies and watching doctors struggling to revive them.
Medical and scientific experts have maintained these ‘near-death experiences' do not exist and are simply a normal reaction to intolerable stress.
Yet now university researchers claim to have produced compelling scientific evidence that they really do happen.
Others say this may show the mind continues to exist after death.
Near-death experiences (NDEs) occur when someone is clinically dead, their heart has stopped beating and their brain no longer functioning.
Related Article: Lessons Learned from a Near Death Experience
The study, one of the most extensive scientific investigations into the phenomenon, shows that almost one in five heart attack patients who were brought back to life had had an NDE.
The researchers say known medical explanations cannot account for these out-of-body sensations.
Dr. Pim van Lommel and colleagues from the Rijnstate Hospital in Arnhem, Holland, investigated the experiences of 344 heart patients resuscitated after cardiac arrest.
All had been clinically dead at some point during their treatment, says a report in The Lancet today.
Sixty-two patients reported NDE, of whom 41 described a deep experience during a special state of consciousness. These included out-of-body experiences, pleasant feelings, and seeing a tunnel, a light, deceased relatives, or a life review.
The researchers said: ‘Our results show that medical factors cannot account for the occurrence of NDE; although all patients had been clinically dead, most did not have NDE.
‘If purely physiological factors caused NDE, most of our patients should have had this experience.'
Dr. Sam Parnia, a clinical research fellow at Southampton University who made similar findings earlier this year, called the latest report ‘very exciting'.
‘This is a very significant study because it takes us one step closer to understanding the human condition at the end of life which has been ignored by the scientific community until recently,' he added.