Peter Fenwick, MD

Peter Fenwick, MD

The Art of Dying Well — The Stages of Death


Throughout history humankind has wondered what happens to them when the body dies. Each culture has its own stories about this. In this scientific era we need to look closely at the data concerning the mental states of the dying. We need to know what it is like to die. We need to know, as we come up to death, what the dying themselves feel at this time. Are they stepping into a void, or is their experience like that of Edison, the American inventor, who awoke from coma just before he died to say “It is very beautiful over there.”

Our scientific view tells us that oblivion is all we have to look forward to. But people who have talked to the dying report something very different. Since the beginning of this century interest in the phenomena which surround dying, both in the experiences the dying themselves describe during the dying process, and the phenomena observed by others who are with them, suggest that our scientific model is incomplete and needs modification in the light of the new evidence. It is time to give up our current belief structure, and just follow the data.

In this talk I review some of the research which shows changes in the mental state of the dying in their last days or weeks and at the time of death. I shall also look at the phenomena which occur at and around the time of death. This is a truly fascinating area as it expands our understanding and shows that if we are to die well we need to approach death with a confident and peaceful mind, resolving any conflicts in our relationships, and being prepared for the process of death itself.


Peter Fenwick attended Trinity College, earning these degrees and grades of membership in psychiatry:

  • BA
  • Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery
  • DPM Parts 1 and 2
  • Diploma in Pharmaceutical Medicine
  • MRCPsych (Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists)
  • FRC Psych Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Research Editorial Boards

Dr. Fenwick has participated on the editorial boards of a number of research journals, many of them in more technical biomedical specializations

  • Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 1985 - 1988
  • Brain Topography, 1988 - 1991
  • Journal of Epilepsy, 1988 -
  • Psychiatry Research, Neuroimaging, 1985 -
  • Journal of Consciousness, 1993 -
  • Archives of Indian Psychiatry, 1994 -
  • Mental Health Religion and Culture 1998 -

Lecturer in a wide array of specialties

Dr. Fenwick is an internationally recognized expert in a number of psychiatric specialties:

  • National lecturer on postgraduate neuropsychiatry and epilepsy courses.
  • International lecturer on:
    • The psychiatric conditions associated with epilepsy
    • The behavioral treatment of epilepsy
    • The psychological sequelae (aftermath) of surgery for epilepsy
    • Sleep medicine
    • Medicine, automatism (akin to U.S. legal insanity), epilepsy, violence and the law (graduate level)
    • Near-death experiences
    • Mental states of the dying

Research: Prolific across a number of psychiatric subjects

Dr. Fenwick has published in over 220 research papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, the majority in high-impact journals, in these subject areas:

  • Meditation
  • Altered states of consciousness
  • Sleep
  • Epilepsy
  • Neurophysiology and magnetoencephalography ((MEG) is a functional neuroimaging technique for mapping brain activity by recording magnetic fields produced by electrical currents occurring naturally in the brain, using very sensitive magnetometers.)
  • Near death experiences
  • Approaching death experiences

He has contributed over 15 chapters to co-authored scientific books,

Current positions

Peter Fenwick is a senior lecturer at King’s College, London, where he works as a consultant at the Institute of Psychiatry. He is the Consultant Neuropsychologist at both the Maudsley, and John Radcliffe hospitals, and also provides services for Broadmoor Hospital. He works with the Mental Health Group at the University of Southampton, and holds a visiting professorship at the Riken Neurosciences Institute in Japan.

Fenwick is the president of the Horizon Research Foundation, an organization that supports research into end-of-life experiences.

Dr. Fenwick's interest in NDE and the stages of death

Fenwick’s interest in near-death experiences was piqued when he read Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life. Initially skeptical of Moody’s anecdotal evidence, Fenwick reassessed his opinion after a discussion with one of his own patients, who described a near-death experience very similar to that of Moody’s subjects. Since then, he has collected and analyzed hundreds of near-death experiences.

Fenwick’s research has found that near-death experiences do not, overall, tend to have a substantial religious component. The tendency is for patients to reinterpret their belief system in light of the experience, rather than to fit the experience to their pre-existing ideas. He and his wife Elizabeth Fenwick report in their studies that near-death experiences are almost always positive in nature.

He and his wife are co-authors of The Art of Dying, a study of the spiritual needs of near-death patients. The Fenwicks argue that modern medical practices have devalued end-of-life experiences, and call for a more holistic approach to death and dying.

Selected bibliography for Peter Fenwick, MD

  • The Art of Dying with Elizabeth Fenwick (Continuum, 2008)
  • Past Lives: An Investigation into Reincarnation Memories with Elizabeth Fenwick (Berkley, 2001)
  • The Hidden Door: Understanding and Controlling Dreams with Elizabeth Fenwick (Berkley Publishing Group, 1999)
  • The Truth in the Light: An Investigation of Over 300 Near-Death Experiences with Elizabeth Fenwick (Berkley Trade, 1997)
  • Living With Epilepsy with Elizabeth Fenwick (Bloomsbury, 1996)