Is it Time to Say Final Goodbyes to Our Definition of Brain Death?

Written by FASPE Medical Fellows: Alexa Kanbergs and Joseph Scarpa, Jr.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the “Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School to Examine the Definition of Brain Death.”  Motivated by the number of patients in hospitals that were permanently unconscious but retained biological function, this document outlined a definition and criteria for determining brain death.  The criteria included confirming the patient is unconscious and cannot respond or perceive stimuli, loss of key brainstem functions, and that all reversible causes have been ruled out. The wide acceptance of the concept of brain death proposed in the Harvard Report then led to significant advancements in the field of organ donation.  Patients determined to meet the criteria for brain death who have consented to organ donation are the ideal source of organs, as circulation can be maintained until organ procurement takes place. The concept of brain death has been controversial since its origins, but with technology advancements that allow organs to remain viable for longer periods without a beating heart, does the definition still stand the test of time?

Read the original article on The New York Times.