Medical advances mean it will soon be possible to bring the dead back to life, a doctor claims.
Modern techniques will enable a patient to be revived up to 24 hours after they stop breathing, Dr Sam Parnia says.
The American critical care physician, who trained in London, said: ‘We may soon be rescuing people from death’s clutches hours, or even longer, after they have actually died.’
He claims the US actor James Gandolfini, star of The Sopranos – who died in June aged 51 in Rome – might have survived if he had suffered his massive heart attack in New York.
‘I believe if he died here, he could still be alive. We’d cool him down, pump oxygen to the tissues, which prevents them from dying,’ Dr Parnia told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine. ‘Clinically dead, he could then be cared for by the cardiologist. He would make an angiogram, find the clot, take it out, put in a stent and we would restart the heart.’
Dr Parnia, whose new book on resuscitation science is called Erasing Death, said death should be reversible for many patients, providing they are in the right place getting the right treatment.
‘Of course we can’t rescue everybody and many people with heart attacks have other major problems,’ he said. ‘But if all the latest medical technologies and training had been implemented, which clearly hasn’t been done, then in principle the only people who should die and stay dead are those that have an underlying condition that is untreatable.
‘A heart attack is treatable. Blood loss as well. A terminal cancer isn’t, neither are many infections with multiresistant pathogens. In these cases, even if we’d restart the heart, it would stop again and again.
‘My basic message: The death we commonly perceive today in 2013 is a death that can be reversed.’ Dr Parnia, head of intensive care at the Stony Brook University Hospital in New York, said resuscitation figures tell their own story.
The average resuscitation rate for cardiac arrest patients is 18 per cent in US hospitals and 16 per cent in Britain. But at his hospital it is 33 per cent – and the rate peaked at 38 per cent earlier this year.
‘Most, but not all of our patients, get discharged with no neurological damage whatsoever,’ he said, adding that it is a ‘widely held misconception’ – even among doctors – that the brain begins to suffer massive damage from oxygen deprivation three to five minutes after the heart stops.
‘In the past decade we have seen tremendous progress. With today’s medicine, we can bring people back to life up to one, maybe two hours, sometimes even longer, after their heart stopped beating and they have thus died by circulatory failure.
‘In the future, we will likely get better at reversing death.’
The techniques he advocates are not cryogenics – freezing the body immediately after death – but cooling it down to best preserve brain cells while keeping up the level of oxygen in the blood. This buys time to fix the underlying problem and restart the heart, he claims.
He says that if someone collapses with a heart attack, call 999 then immediately place bags of frozen vegetables on them until the ambulance arrives, as it helps protect the brain.
‘It is possible that in 20 years, we may be able to restore people to life 12 hours or maybe even 24 hours after they have died.
‘You could call that resurrection, if you will. But I still call it resuscitation science.’