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28 The "rising from brain death" myth


This article is from the Organ Transplant FAQ, by mike_holloway@hotmail.com (Michael Holloway) with numerous contributions by others.

28 The "rising from brain death" myth

One of the requirements for solid organ donation from cadavers is
that blood remain circulating for a number of hours. This requires
a patient that has been declared brain dead, total loss of brain
stem function, but whose heart can be kept beating. Unfortunately,
the media, and even, apparently, some medical professionals, are in
the habit of using the term "brain dead" to describe other
conditions that are properly referred to as vegetative state and
coma. A patient can recover, to one degree or another, from a
vegetative state or a coma. As a result, when next of kin are
approached with a request for organ donation after being told that
the patient is brain dead they often mistakenly believe that the
patient might recover and insist on waiting till the heart has
stopped beating and the patient is no longer a candidate for

Myths are widely circulated of patients declared brain dead who
recover just as they are about to be used for organ donation. This
has never happened. Inaccurate use of terms has probably
contributed to myths of resurrection from brain death, but the
linkage to organ donation is simply malicious.

An extremely informative article about the confusion surrounding brain death
is at http://www.pitt.edu/~cep/41-3.html. It's extremely important that
everyone concerned about organ donation understands this issue. Medical
professionals themselves are guilty of perpetuating misunderstandings and
myths about brain death and organ procurement. This may be the single most
significant factor working against organ donation.

The Partnership for Organ Donation (see section II and Part 2, section
II), a nonprofit organization active in altering the way donation
requests are made, is urging professionals to avoid the use of the term
"brain death" when discussing the declaration of death with the family
since its unrealistic to expect that the term can be explained to them,
and misinformation corrected, while they are grieving.

Freeman JW
Confusion and misunderstanding of some of the terms and practices
readily employed in medicine [editorial]
S D J Med 1991 May;44(5):123

Pallis C
ABC of brain stem death. The position in the USA and elsewhere.
Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1983 Jan 15;286(6360):209-10

Young B Blume W Lynch A
Brain death and the persistent vegetative state: similarities and
Can J Neurol Sci 1989 Nov;16(4):388-93

Oboler SK
Brain death and persistent vegetative states.
Clin Geriatr Med 1986 Aug;2(3):547-76

Let's Abolish "Brain-Death", Community Ethics / Volume 4, Number 1,


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