Books

'Proof of Heaven' claims questioned in new report

July 2, 2013 at 8:24 AM ET

Video: The story of Eben Alexander’s near-death experience and his journey to what he says was heaven has sold more than two million copies, but now some of the neurosurgeon author’s story is up for debate in a new Esquire article. NBC’s Erica Hill reports.

Dr. Eben Alexander has sold more than two million copies of his New York Times best-seller “Proof of Heaven,” a book in which he describes experiences in the afterlife after he slipped into a coma.

In an article in the August issue of Esquire, contributing editor Luke Dittrich raises new questions about Alexander’s account.

Click here for Esquire’s story (behind a paywall)

“I think when you buy a book that’s marketed as a nonfiction book, when that book’s called “Proof of Heaven,' I think that carries with it certain expectations of accuracy,’’ Dittrich told TODAY Tuesday.

Alexander nearly died four years ago when a bout of bacterial meningitis put him into a seven-day coma. As a neurosurgeon, he had always leaned more toward the scientific than the spiritual, but when he emerged from the coma, he described visions of heaven. He wrote about his experiences in “Proof of Heaven,’’ which was released in October 2012.

“So much of what I saw on my journey showed me how primitive our science is,” he said in a promotional video made by his publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Dittrich began to investigate many of Alexander’s accounts surrounding his near-death experience while also speaking directly with Alexander about them on several occasions. Dittrich says he found discrepancies in some of the stories, which he details in his article, titled “The Prophet.”

“We'd all love to know there's something amazing waiting for us,’’ Dittrich said. “Maybe someday someone will prove heaven. You can read ‘(Proof of) Heaven’ and decide whether or not Dr. Alexander did.’’

As an example of one of the inconsistiencies he found, Dittrich pointed out an emotional passage in the book that the doctor treating Alexander at the time contradicts.

“There’s a very dramatic scene in the book where he screams out in a crystal-clear way, ‘God help me!‘” Dittrich said.

Dittrich spoke with the emergency room physician, Dr. Laura Potter, who treated Alexander on the day he claimed he cried out. She said she didn’t remember him crying out and that she had intubated Alexander, which would have made it impossible for him to speak. Potter confirmed that account to NBC News and also confirmed that Alexander talked to her about taking some liberties with his story.

“There are numerous episodes where it appears to have been perhaps some dramatization or artistic license taken,’’ Dittrich said.

Alexander has issued a statement to NBC News in response to the Esquire article.

"I stand by every word in this book and have made its message the purpose of my life,’’ he said. “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."

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