A fate worse than death

DEATH: Although dead, Lazarus Syndrome can cause delayed return of spontaneous circulation in people

I have little to fear if after mortal death I need to answer for my sins, which are few and far between.

However, I am anxious about my passage to the afterlife. It troubles me that many declared dead are anything but.

The family of a young Peruvian who died after undergoing a root canal operation have spoken of their distress after he appeared to be breathing at his own funeral.

Watson Doroteo was inside his coffin when relatives noticed that his ribcage was rising and falling as if he was continuing to breathe. Earlier Doroteo, had been pronounced dead by doctors after experiencing fever and chills following an operation on his mouth.

All is well that ends badly; a doctor was called as the funeral was taking place and he confirmed the man showed vital signs of life. Removed from the coffin he was transferred to hospital where it was later confirmed he was, in fact, dead.

There are few recorded cases of muscle movement after death, although there have been other instances where people have previously been mistakenly diagnosed as being dead.

Cases involving people who have returned from the dead are described as having the Lazarus syndrome. The phenomenon is defined as a delayed return of spontaneous circulation after CPR has been administered and halted.

Since 1982 when the phenomenon was first described in medical journals, there have been at least 38 reported cases. Yet scientists believe that it is much more common than studies actually suggest.

There are some theories surrounding what causes the Lazarus syndrome, some suggesting it may be down to a pressure build-up in the chest caused by CPR resulting in it slowly kick-starting the heart back into action, or possibly delayed action of medication used as part of the resuscitation efforts such as adrenaline.

Previously, in the 19th century there were business that focused on making and selling equipment to doctors and morgues to actually test if the person was really dead, including allowing members of the public to stick needles under the nails of dead bodies, or in their eyes, as recently documented in the 2017 Netflix show Lore.

In March 2014, there were two cases of people coming back from the dead. Walter Williams, 79, was found alive and literally kicking, in a body bag after he had been taken to be embalmed in America. The confusion was apparently due to his pacemaker turning off.

The American journalist Mark Twain once remarked, “reports of my death have been grossly exaggerated,” after his obituary appeared prematurely in a newspaper.