When I heard about Eben Alexander’s I-died-and-went-to-heaven story, my first reaction was dismissive: I’ve heard these stories so many times, and they always turn out to be confabulation. When the brain is rebooted after trauma, especially if the process is prolonged as in Alexander’s case, it tries to reconstruct the continuity of experience by building memories (heck, even in normal healthy brains, memories are constructed). What I would have condemned Alexander for is extreme gullibility, unforgivable in a highly trained neurosurgeon.
I did not assume he was making stuff up for a payday. But not so fast; an Esquire reporter did some digging into Eben Alexander’s background, and also checked the details of his claims in his book, and it looks like we ought to be more suspicious.
When Alexander got sick in late 2008, he hadn’t practiced surgery in a year and faced a $3 million malpractice lawsuit. He now has a best-selling book and a movie deal.
Not just a malpractice suit, which are fairly common, but a whole string of malpractice suits that made him the subject of the highest number of such suits in his state. He’d similarly faded out of practice in Massachusetts, first, and then moved to Virginia to restart, where he then lost his surgical privileges at his hospital after a succession of screwups in spinal surgery…and after altering surgical records to cover his tracks.
Oh, well. When you’re a venal fuckup, you can always find a loving home in the Christian community by lying about Jesus a lot.