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When are you really dead? New study finds hospital policies still differ when determining brain death

An doctor speaks with a patient during a medical consultation.
An doctor speaks with a patient during a medical consultation.

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An alarming new study finds that policies for determining brain death vary widely from hospital to hospital.

In 2010 the American Academy of Neurology issued new guidelines on the determination of brain death. The report released this week found that there are significant differences in how hospitals follow the guidelines when declaring patients brain dead.

Twenty percent of the more than 500 hospitals surveyed nationwide do not require doctors to check the patients' temperatures to determine whether they are high enough to make the assessment.

Nearly half of the hospital policies do not require doctors to ensure that the patient’s blood pressure is adequate for assessment of brain function. And most of the policies don't require the doctor to make the final call. 

Determining Brain Death in Adults


David Greer, Neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine who led the study

Fred Rincon, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurological Surgery Neurointensivist, Division of Neurotrauma and Critical Care, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia