Reflections of a Setting SunReflections of a Setting Sun – healing experiences around death

By Michael Barbato

In this fascinating book a palliative-care physician, who is also clearly a man with deep spiritual interests, records the unexplainable experiences of his dying patients. These include the much-studied Near-Death Experience but also other phenomena he has observed and recorded: deathbed visions, out-of-body experience, patients’ dreams, their expanded intuition and after- death communication. This interest in the esoteric, though, is balanced with a thoroughly scientific analysis of his material: the bibliography is a very comprehensive source for the scientific research and investigations done in this field over the last fifty years.

While I am much drawn to the poignancy and mystery of the patients’ stories, for me the lasting value of the book is Dr Barbato’s willingness to explore the underlying reasons for the phenomena he describes; he has a chapter entitled ‘The cause of near-to-death experiences,’ where he reviews a range of theories from the ‘transcendent’ through various neurological based responses, to a psychological theory based on dissociation. Most helpful to me was the concise summary of theories of what ‘consciousness’ might actually be.

His experience gained from working daily with the dying for over twenty years is invaluable. For example, he opines that, while a dying patient may appear deeply unconscious, it is rarely as straightforward as that. He suggests that in their presence one always talks to a patient, never about them. He also has advice about honouring the length of time a patient needs to die and is wary of what he describes as ‘the fashion of telling the unconscious person it is okay to die.’ The final section of the book covers these and related issues around care of the dying.

I found this a very helpful book written, as it is, from an almost unique perspective: of scientist, deeply imbued with compassion and informed through a long career in palliative care.

Review by Chetan

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