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Eben Alexander

Esquire Exposé on Proof of Heaven Author Eben Alexander

For much of this year, a book about near-death experiences has sat close to the top of the bestseller lists: Proof of Heaven, by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, which tells the story of his encounter with an afterlife realm while suffering from bacterial meningitis. It has sold, it is said, around 2 million copies. I have previously mentioned some quibbles I have with it, even moreso now that it has risen to become the ‘poster-boy’ for the NDE over the past year. But a new investigative article for Esquire by Luke Dittrich, titled “The Prophet” (*requires a small fee to read), has found much, much more to be concerned about, and is being covered by all the major news outlets: it states that Dr. Eben Alexander has had a number of malpractice suits against him over the years, alleges that he may have actively tried to modify the evidence in some of those, and that he also both fabricated parts of his book and did not mention other relevant details:

From one point of view, the point of view that Fox & Friends and Newsweek and Oprah and Dr. Oz and Larry King and all of his other gentle interrogators have helped perpetuate, Dr. Eben Alexander is a living miracle, literally heaven sent, a man capable of finally bridging the chasm between the world of spirituality and the world of science. From this point of view, he is, let’s not mince words, a prophet, because after all, what else do you call a man who comes bearing fresh revelations from God? This point of view has been massively profitable for Dr. Eben Alexander, has spawned not just a book sold in thirty-five countries around the globe but a whole cascade of ancillary products, including a forthcoming major motion picture from Universal.

But there is another point of view. And from this point of view, Dr. Eben Alexander looks less like a messenger from heaven and more like a true son of America, a country where men have always found ways to escape the rubble of their old lives through audacious acts of reinvention.

I have mixed thoughts on the article. Firstly, I think there’s certainly a vibe that Dittrich tried his hardest to paint Alexander in a bad light. The malpractice stories are no doubt serious business, but in apparently ‘dredging’ these up Dittrich gives the feeling that Alexander had swept this unfortunate part of his career under the rug. But while he definitely didn’t explicitly point them out in his book, the adopted Alexander did make clear that he had issues that began around 1999, after he had slipped into depression after finding out that his biological sister had died a year before he set out to find her, and his biological parents were refusing his request for contact. He plainly states that an “ocean of sadness”, caused by the feeling of being “cut off from my source” had derailed him “both emotionally and professionally”, and that his job had suffered as a result (“My depression had ramifications in my work…it killed me that my career in academic neurosurgery was slumping…for much of the next seven years my career, and my family life, continued to suffer”). While it would be nice if all authors were plainly honest about the facts of their life, I am not exactly surprised that there were no precise details within the book’s pages about the complaints (and even if he did put it in the manuscript, I’m pretty sure his editor would have stripped that out for commercial reasons). Dittrich himself makes clear that Alexander is hardly a hack or a quack (“four different former residents of Alexander’s use the word brilliant to describe him”), so I find it unfortunate that a number of blog articles about Dittrich’s exposé have given this impression.< What is more troubling, especially when it comes to believing Alexander's account of his NDE, is the claim in the Esquire piece that in the wake of some of these complaints from patients, the neurosurgeon modified the evidence to suit his purposes:

The question was whether he had ever warned her about the possible complications. When the woman’s lawyer asked to see the two-page informed-consent form that laid out the risks, Alexander could find only the first page, the page without the woman’s signature. And that page, as the lawyer noted, had “multiple punch holes and fray marks, indicating that it had been filed in [the patient’s] chart, extracted from the file, and later refiled.” Further, he said, additional documents also had gone missing, including a letter that the patient’s primary neurosurgeon had sent to Alexander, notifying him of her postoperative facial paralysis. The woman’s attorney argued that “it is reasonable to infer that this pattern of disappearance of probative evidence was not coincidental, but was in fact deliberate.” The attorney was arguing, in other words, that when Alexander found things that didn’t fit the story he wanted to tell, he changed them, or made them disappear altogether.

Alexander settled.


On July 12, he had his first follow-up appointment with the farmer. He reviewed the postoperative X-rays. He noticed his mistake. He didn’t tell his patient. Instead, after his patient went home, he pulled the operative report up on his computer and edited it. Now the report read that the MRI scan had showed disk bulge at both C4-5 and C5-6, and that “we had discussed possible C5-6 as well as C4-5 decompression, finally deciding on C4-5 decompression.” Then he simply found every subsequent reference in the report to C5-6 and changed it to C4-5.

After he finished editing the report, it read as though he hadn’t done anything wrong at all.

Dittrich notes that this ‘character trait’ has ramifications for one of the crucial pieces of ‘proof of heaven’ that Alexander includes in his book (and which I discussed in this earlier article) – his realization that the ‘girl on the butterfly wing’ during his NDE was actually his dead sister:

One morning, maybe four months after his coma, he’s in his bedroom reading one of these books, called On Life After Death, by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. He comes to a story about a little girl who has a near-death experience during which she meets a deceased brother she had never known.

Alexander, who had recently received a photo of a deceased daughter of his birth parents, a sister he had never known, puts the book down and lets his eyes wander to the photo. And then, suddenly, he recognizes her.

The girl on the butterfly wing.

Dittrich also disputes a number of the ‘facts’ recounted by Eben Alexander in Proof of Heaven, from the weather during his coma through to the claims about his coma. Most pertinent, given that much of the book revolves around the anomaly that he should not have been physically able to have his near-death experience due to being completely unconscious and with a non-functioning brain:

In Proof of Heaven, Alexander writes that he spent seven days in “a coma caused by a rare case of E. coli bacterial meningitis.” There is no indication in the book that it was [ER doctor] Laura Potter, and not bacterial meningitis, that induced his coma, or that the physicians in the ICU maintained his coma in the days that followed through the use of anesthetics. Alexander also writes that during his week in the ICU he was present “in body alone,” that the bacterial assault had left him with an “all-but-destroyed brain.” He notes that by conventional scientific understanding, “if you don’t have a working brain, you can’t be conscious,” and a key point of his argument for the reality of the realms he claims to have visited is that his memories could not have been hallucinations, since he didn’t possess a brain capable of creating even a hallucinatory conscious experience.

I ask Potter whether the manic, agitated state that Alexander exhibited whenever they weaned him off his anesthetics during his first days of coma would meet her definition of conscious.

“Yes,” she says. “Conscious but delirious.”

The claims made in Luke Dittrich’s Esquire article throw serious doubt on the importance of Eben Alexander’s NDE account to any scientific discussion on the topic. For his part though, Alexander has issued a short statement saying he stands by “every word in this book and have made its message the purpose of my life…Esquire’s cynical article distorts the facts of my 25-year career as a neurosurgeon and is a textbook example of how unsupported assertions and cherry-picked information can be assembled at the expense of the truth.” It will be interesting to see how Alexander responds in more detail to the various points made by Dittrich, such as those regarding his 7 day coma. Hopefully he does so soon to bring some clarity to the situation.

  1. Greg This’s a Complete No Brainer
    Greg according to various nurses I’m either related to or know these days there’s hardly a doctor going who doesn’t have some sort of malpractice thing proceeding against them hence the exhorbitant insurance cover needed.

    That’s a red herring.

    So’s making it sound like Alexander knew all along coming out with this story’d make him a best selling author though apparently it isn’t at all scandalous for Luke Dittrich himself to become Lucre Gittrich by profiting from Alexander’s story.

    In fact it wouldn’t matter if Alexander was a cross between Genghis Khan Jimmy Saville and Elizabeth Bathory and he had a boyfriend who stole someone else’s identity.

    It doesn’t even matter whether he really went to Heaven or not.

    Even the whole dispute over whether his neocortex was shut down by brain eating bacteria or anaesthetic really comes down to differences of medical opinion.

    It doesn’t even matter whether he thought he was Fox Mulder try’n’o get his sister back from the greys or he kept a forty year diary describing his attempts to become the new L Ron Hubbard.

    All that matters’s whether or not his brain was shut down yet somehow continued to have a fully functional and coherent consciousness.

    It’d be useful if Laura Potter’d clarify what she meant by “Conscious but delirious” but by any definition delirious ain’t the definition of mental coherence and if you don’t notice a bull’s got a bolt through its brain or a chicken’s no head their tottering or flailing about may convince you they’re exhibiting signs of consciousness.

    The vast cosmic joke of all this’s when you think there’re over 100 people out there known to have no brain yet’re somehow still capable of conducting fully functional lives as lecturers tax collectors etc you’d think neuro scientists and the like’d be made up at last they’ve finally got a neurosurgical insider available to bounce ideas and questions off how that’s even possible!

    1. Alexander is just one of
      Alexander is just one of thousands reporting vivid NDE’s with a paranormal component verified by other “particpants” among the living. I read all of them with a grain of salt, but the overall pattern is compelling. Alexander’s experience just happens to agree with many others in some particulars, and that he took the trouble to write a book sets him apart, but he is just really a minor cog in the big wheel of NDE’s.
      I have been disappointed that the Biography Channels series “I Survived: Beyond and Back” has not been continued. I cannot understand why. It had stellar ratings and some of the most interesting NDE experiencers ever interviewed in depth. Instead, we are left with the morbid “I Survived” which is just about how insanely cruel humans can be to each other. A lot of TV now promotes fear. Perhaps “Beyond and Back” was too uplifting.

      1. Minor cog
        And yet, I perceive an unusual drive to discredit him & his experience, simply because he happens to be a neurologist –i.e. someone who would appear to have enough scientific credentials to validate the assertion that what he experienced was not a dream or hallucinations generated by his brain.

  2. Proof of Something
    Michael Prescott has written a brief blog post about the “debunking”, and there are some good comments as well. Interestingly, Prescott is quite skeptical of Alexander’s version of events. I loaned the book to a friend, so I can’t reference in detail; but the big question mark about Alexander’s account is that he puts his NDE in context of his lapsed Episcopal beliefs. I don’t doubt Alexander experienced something; but like Prescott, I’m skeptical of his interpretation of that something. In any case, Alexander’s complete recovery from an infection that should have killed him (or at the very least, put him in a permanent vegetative state), is one for the record books.

    As for the Esquire piece — it raises some valid points, probably more questions than answers. But I feel Dittrich is relying too much on portraying Alexander as untrustworthy and manipulative. It’s the oldest trick in the debunking manual; paint the individual as someone who can’t be trusted, and the rest is debunked by default, no matter how strong the evidence to support their story is.

      1. N of 1*
        Yep, Alexander didn’t want Heaven in the title at all:

        I fought that title! When I first approached Simon and Schuster in January of 2012, I had some really sexy, kind of cool title like N of 1* as in “N of 38 patients” [in a clinical trial]. But I think the publisher was right. Proof of Heaven definitely hit a nerve. Originally, I complained that it wasn’t really “proof” in the scientific sense because I knew full well that the scientific human mind will never weigh in pro or con on the existence of that realm. It may not be scientific proof, but it is pretty strong proof that Consciousness is eternal.

        I also knew that people would bicker about the definition of heaven. And if you get hung up in the details, you miss the fact that the important thing is that this realm is absolutely real. It’s so non-earth like. It’s completely outside of our concept of space and time; it’s a much richer, more vibrant, more crisp and fully existent world than this little illusory, dream-like material realm we live in.

        RPJ, you really need to read the book to understand why I highlight Alexander’s Episcopal background, and not just throw around the generic Christian tag. His interpretation of the Heaven and God he experienced is very much Episcopal. I question this interpretation, even though I think he experienced something — maybe it’s supernatural, maybe it’s divine, maybe it’s purely biological. I don’t know.

        Regardless, Dr Eben Alexander III has every right to interpret his experience as he saw it. His experience. Its important to highlight that. As poet John Keats wrote, “nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.”

        One thing Dittrich and other debunkers brush over is that Alexander was on the agnostic side of skeptical before his NDE. Maybe Alexander portrayed himself that way just for credibility. Again, I don’t know. I see no reason to distrust him on this, he strikes me as sincere; but it’s healthy to be cautious.

        1. Well said
          Well said, my friend 🙂

          I really do need to read his book. Along with the Squire article. I’ll probably check out the latter before the former. Hopefully it won’t hinder my objectivity weighing in on Alexander’s experience.

          …Which is, if you think about it, quite the quaint ordeal 😉

          1. Having absorbed a short ton
            Having absorbed a short ton of paranormal reality shows the most striking thing to me is that the dead who are “stuck” in the in between state we call ghostly retain many of their original personality components, biases, neuroses, pathologies, etc. They are not evolving or being made more heavenly. They are stuck. It therefore does not surprise me that people transitioning from this plane to some other might retain cultural and religious filters. The often heard criticism that such experiences can’t be real because they carry preexisting cultural baggage does not constitute a valid objection – at least not to me based on what I am seeing in the experiences of the ghost busters.

  3. About Esquire Magazine’s opinion on Dr. Alexander’s NDE
    Since when has Esquire magazine become a scholarly, peer-reviewed, journal? Esquire magazine’s opinion means nothing to me. They are only in the business of making money and are making millions with this so-called “story”. They are hoping this hit piece will rescue their print media company from failing just as Newsweek did.

  4. Esquire Exposé on Proof of Heaven Author Eben Alexander
    For the public who hasn’t kept up with the paranormal-materialist battle that rages on year after year. I’ve read the article and see no reason to find that it is anything more than a witch hunt to create controversy and make for a sellable article by Esquire $1.99. Anyone having been around the medical profession at all knows that a surgeon of 25 years will likely have at least 3-4 malpractice suits that have settled and perhaps many more that have been dismissed. I believe only Obstetrics and Cosmetic has a higher rate than Neurosurgery. I personally know two surgeons who were considered the best in their states, in vascular and obstetrics, for 2/3 of their 20+ year careers who decided to give up medicine after several malpractice suits. Often by the time surgeons have 20 years its time to retire, due to these suits. The idea that this was the motivator for Dr. Alexander to make up an NDE story, is a huge stretch. I’m sure he contracted a deadly disease intentionally too. This is certainly a Red Herring.

    When will the materialist realize that it’s not any single story that makes the case for life after death, it’s the millions of consistently similar repeated stories from very different people worldwide year after year, with no previous knowledge of the subject, that creates evidence. The argument that Dr. Alexander could have had the NDE experience after the coma, is an argument that was made before the article, and was addressed in the book. Most NDE’rs say the clarity of the experience is far clearer than any dream and many times clearer than conscious reality itself, often including senses that do not exist in earthly consciousness. So once again, yet another Red Herring.

    All in all this seems like a typical materialist attack on what the mainstream scientific community defines as fallen brotherin. And the arguments in the article are coined and with a clear message that these accusations could be made to attack, and likely will be used to attack, any surgeon, physician or scientist who publicizes such an experience in the future. Here is something that can be checked out. The long list of medical doctors and scientists who have been personally attacked by materialist colleagues and skeptics. Their professional integrity and credibility attacked but rarely if ever challenged with contradictory evidence. To anyone new to paranormal research, no matter how popular, published and accepted they were previously they are made to seem like just another crackpot caught in a story we all wish was true, but just couldn’t be true! But to those of us who have been following the research for any period of time, it’s clear that every researcher who finds and publicizes any studies or evidence toward the paranormal, is about to be attacked personally by the materialist mainstream from all directions and made to look like a spiritual fanatic or greedy book seller after money. Or both. It simply isn’t tolerated by the scientific community regardless of the thousands of experiences and abundance of repeatable scientific evidence collected by legitimate scientists. Consistently, the materialist continue to stage personal attacks on the investigators and scientists to discount the evidence, rather than trying to refute the evidence by scientific procedure. Nonetheless progress is being made and worldwide the NON-RELIGIOUS majority of the public believes in life after death. It will take many more highly credible scientists like Dr. Alexander to begin to turn the tide on proof and get people to begin to look at the real evidence. Every year there seem to be more and more. The majority of Physicists seem to have come around, but most of them far too quietly.

      1. The paranormal equates to
        The paranormal equates to “loss of control.” So many establishment types are all about dominance and control hence their animosity to the idea of the paranormal.

  5. proof on Heaven
    I am surprised that people distrust accounts of NDE simply because they are tainted by the person’s living experience, be it religious or scientific. I personnally made the trip twice, and it is so hard to explain such an experience in a physical point of view that you have no choice but to dig in the things you feel can better explain it. ‘THERE” time and space are the very same thing. you can have many other consciouness connecting yours at the very same time, yet you know that they are from various eras. You feel you fill space and it fills you as if the fabric of the universe was one giant consciousness and a feeling of awe, love and knowledge that the ‘physical’ human experience can’t explain. In fact when you come back you feel a bit alien…

    1. I look forward to the time
      I look forward to the time when we can have clinically guided NDE’s that give us a taste of what you experienced. It would be hugely transformative for the society and culture, but since the average message of it is uplifting the current PTB will do what they can to quash such techniques.

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