Could Michael Jackson Have Been Revived?
Many people report seeing a bright light at the end of a long dark tunnel after a near-death experience.
Credit: Dreamstime

Add this compelling question to the many conspiracy theories surrounding Michael Jackson's death: If the right doctor has gotten to him, might he have been revived?

It would have trumped Elvis and Hoffa, for sure, if the King of Pop could have risen from the dead. But (as best we know) it wasn't to be.

However, AP asks the question today in a report on a doctor who is known for "raising the dead." Okay, catchy headline, but what the story really says is this: With certain techniques and under certain circumstances (mainly, very quick reactions by medical staff) a patient whose heart has stopped beating might be revived. And that is nothing new.

In recent years, medical experts have come to realize that death is less about a moment than it is about a process. Last fall, in discussing why people have near-death experiences that share many similar traits, researcher Sam Parnia of the University of Southampton in the U.K. explained the process of death:

"During a cardiac arrest, all three criteria of death are present," Parnia explained: The heart stops beating, the lungs stop working and the brain ceases functioning. In many minds, that defines clinical death. But ...

"There then follows a period of time, which may last from a few seconds to an hour or more, in which emergency medical efforts may succeed in restarting the heart and reversing the dying process," Parnia said. "What people experience during this period of cardiac arrest provides a unique window of understanding into what we are all likely to experience during the dying process."

The very definition of death is sketchy, in fact.

A study last year found that top hospitals across the country follow different protocols for determining brain death, and often deviate from standards established by the American Academy of Neurology.

The "bring 'em back" doctor in today's AP story, UCLA cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Gerald Buckberg, says "the window is wide open to new thinking" about how long patients have after their hearts stops beating. What there isn't, however, is a lot of time.

So the answer to the question headline on this column is clear: Yes, maybe. If Buckberg had been at Jackson's side, and depending on what was actually behind Jackson's death, who knows?

In The Water Cooler, Imaginova's Editorial Director Robert Roy Britt looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond. Find more in the archives and on Twitter.