Morbid curiosity? This study records what some people’s last moments alive were like

Credit: Beth Horvatic
Credit: Beth Horvatic

There’s no shortage of morbid curiosity surrounding death. But according to the researchers behind this project, known as the Death Prediction and Physiology after Removal of Therapy Study, or DePPaRT, there’s a lot we don’t know for sure about a person’s last minutes of life.

Since 2014, they’ve been collecting vital sign data from dying patients in Canada, the UK, and the Czech Republic as part of their work. 

Nowadays, doctors in Canada are told to wait at least five minutes after blood circulation has stopped after the end of life support before officially calling a person’s time of death (in the U.S, two to five minutes is recommended). In the patients this team studied, there were no cases where doctors were wrong about their determination of death. That said, the movie-friendly sign of death—an immediate flatline on a EKG monitor—wasn’t completely right, either.

Sometimes, in about 14% of patients, there were on-and-off moments of cardiac activity. Importantly, though, these moments usually lasted for a few seconds and didn’t result in the heart fully restarting or in people suddenly waking back up.

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“Doctors and families should be aware about this happening 14% of the time. But they also should be reassured that it doesn’t mean that the person will come back to life,” [lead researcher Sonny] Dhanani said.

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