Death and the Soul

  1. This is a bit of a weird question, but I'm trying to be more active within the Allnurses community and well, I'm curious. Hope it isn't too metaphysical or philosophical.
    I am currently reading a book and it discusses, among other things, organ donation procedures. The writer is not in the healthcare field, but has researched the topic and observed donations in the OR. The author writes that many nurses involved in organ recovery told her that when the patient's heart is removed, they have at times 'felt' the release of the soul from the patient which confused me.
    Now, I have experienced quite a few patient deaths over the years and do understand the feeling she describes. I also know that other nurses have felt it too, since I've discussed it over the years with several colleagues. But all of the deaths I have been present at have been natural. I've never had a brain-dead patient being kept (not sure how to say this) 'alive' by artificial means before the 'plug is pulled' or organ recovery was done in the OR.
    All the above brings me to my question. To the nurses that have taken care of brain-dead patients artificially being kept 'alive' for whatever reason: do you feel that the soul/energy/Chi, etc is still present and leaves when the artificial means of life support are discontinued or do you feel like the soul is gone already with the brain-death and the body is just a shell?
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  2. 14 Comments

  3. by   calivianya
    I've been in the room for lots of deaths, both brain dead/not brain dead, and I've never felt a thing.

    I'd describe my level of spiritual sensitivity as somewhat close to that of a rock, though. Never felt anything, never noticed anything... not even when other people have made comments about the energy or things they've seen.

    The more I learn about the complexity of the brain, the less I'm inclined to believe there is anything beyond the brain. There are perfect scientific explanations for just about everything spiritual people experience - from certain genetic makeups being more prone to having religious experiences to neurotransmitter release-based explanations for NDEs.

    I don't find any difference at all between natural death and artificial death as described above, except I'm much happier for the people who die a natural death. They've actually been suffering through the process; brain dead people haven't been feeling a thing.


    I find the whole topic utterly fascinating, and would absolutely love to have some experience that contradicts what I think I know.
    Last edit by calivianya on Apr 25
  4. by   LovingLife123
    I've been around both kinds of deaths and have never felt a thing. But maybe it's because I believe when your dead, you are dead. There is no big leaving of the soul bit. What we call a soul is actually our personality which is made up of intricate connections in our brain and learned behaviors.
  5. by   elkpark
    I thing that those sorts of experiences (feeling a "soul" "leave" a body at death, etc.) depend on what the individual's personal beliefs are to begin with. I don't think that's an objective, measurable phenomenon.
  6. by   KatieMI
    I care for patients pronounced "brain dead" sometimes more than once, and this is precisely the feelings I do NOT have with them. They are just what they are: dead bodies kept alive by purely technical means.
    It is extremely bitter to see their families not able to let things go and instead pretending that nothing really happened. Once, everybody who provided care for such patient were asked to sign written statement about patient's ability to "communicate meaningfully and appropriately" by spinal reflectory jerks and seizures he constantly had; the goal was to re-enroll him back in an Ivy League university where he was a student before. The bright idea of the family was that "someone" (read: nursing staff) will read textbooks for him and, guided by aforementioned movements, write down what the patient so "would like to say". There was almost a collective prayer said when the poor guy was politely denied admission there, to the incredible disappointment of the family.
  7. by   Here.I.Stand
    I have cared for people who are brain dead whose intent it is to donate. I have cared for brain dead people whose family is saying their goodbyes and will extubate when family ready -- cardiac death then ensues (and despite color and temperature change, that cardiac cessation is not recorded as a time of death. Time of confirmatory exam is). I have cared for people prior to brain death exams, and said exams confirm that brain death has already taken place -- they were already dead.

    I am a committed Christian; actually my screen name and avatar are homages to Martin Luther and William Tyndale, respectively.

    I have never "felt" anything at the time of death, nor have I "felt" anything at the time the heart ceases to beat. I mean of course I *feel* sad for the family, but I don't feel as in a sensory/perceptual change indicative of a soul passing through my personal space, or exiting the room, etc.
  8. by   VivaLasViejas
    Strangely enough, the only spirit I've ever felt "pass away" was my husband's. I've been present at a lot of deaths, but never before had I had that experience, even though I am religious and believe in the human soul. It was the most precious moment of my life.
  9. by   Horseshoe
    People may experience what they expect to experience. If they believe the person ceases to exist on any level after death, they will not likely experience anything which is contrary to that expectation. Likewise, if someone believes they should or will feel something when a soul releases, they will be more likely to perceive that when the person dies.

    JMO.
  10. by   notanumber
    It's a common cultural phenomenon to associate the heart with the seat of emotions, personhood, essence, or soul. I would wager that if the nurses lived in a culture that associated, say, the liver* with these things, they would experience the same emotional response to it being removed. There is no evidence for consciousness existing apart from a brain, so I don't carry that belief with me into practice. It would be very interesting if there were some method of testing these beliefs, but I don't see it happening.

    *https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/art...00078-0036.pdf
  11. by   dream'n
    Thanks everybody, I like getting all kinds of thoughts and opinions.
    Last edit by dream'n on Apr 26
  12. by   HermioneG
    I think that we tend to view death in a similar lens through which we view life. If the author of the book tends to look at things through a spiritual lens where things such as the soul are believed in and always in the forefront of their mind, then I could see how they would view death in a similar manner. Of course, such a final and drastic transition (life to death) would require a similar application of beliefs that are held in every other aspect of the author's life.

    For me, I don't personally believe in a soul, so it would be very difficult for me to look at something like death and suddenly try to apply a "lens" or "filter" to it which I'm not accustomed to using. Now are the author's beliefs right, or are my beliefs right? Are we both half right? Are we both wrong? In the end, I don't really think it matters (although it makes for excellent discussion!). Our perception is our reality, so if my patient believes it then I'm 100% supportive of it.
  13. by   billswife
    When caring for a patient who has been declared brain dead prior to organ harvesting, it is my belief that the patient's spirit is no longer present when the brain has ceased to function. I always find it incredibly sad to watch family members, who don't quite understand brain death, sit at the bedside and talk to the body, beg the person to "wake up", and then stay around to "say goodbye" to the dead body just prior to donation. I know everyone sees this differently, but it just seems so incredibly sad.
  14. by   James W.
    Prior to undertaking nursing training,
    I had been witness to the moment of death,
    many times, from childhood farmyard animal
    killings - through animal hunting,
    & accidental road deaths - strangers & friends.

    I was freaked a bit, as a child, & then later when
    killing by my own hand, & also when feeling useless
    to affect/stop the process in an accidental situation.

    I can't say I felt a soul, but the body does react..
    both mine & those who were very near death..

    I'd say this previous 'demystification' helped me
    develop a 'professional' outlook to manage deathly
    incidents in my role as nurse, with the unexpected,
    VS timely, being a caveat, of course..

    However, as to the O.P. question, I have tried to
    'sense' the 'soul passing' as a matter of interest..

    I have always been devoid of a 'supernatural belief'
    values system so it was more of a curiosity, esp'
    having had a 'near-death' experience myself..

    But no, I was unable to 'feel' anything but the natural
    expected post-cessation of vital signs processes..
    ..with one exception..

    Working in a private medical hospital which was a
    defacto hospice, having a contract with the state
    base hospital to take terminal cases ( so as not
    to have them on mortality stats) I was as night-charge,
    able to catch a few zzzzz.. (while on call, with a pager)

    One night, during that strange 'sleep paralysis' feeling,
    when you are not certain that you are awake, but your body
    isn't - or if you are actually dreaming - that you are right there..

    I felt a vivid sensation of the 'souls' of those who'd died there
    rushing past, akin to standing at a railway platform as an
    express train booms by..

    Being a natural sceptic, I rationalized this weird experience as
    being an artifact of tiredness, with an overlay of sub-aware
    cognitive dissonance/tension for being 'asleep on duty', which
    previously was - a def' no-no, through most nursing duties..

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