Human Exceptionalism

The Need for Uniform Criteria to Declare Death by Neurological Criteria

I have written several posts about the need to develop uniform standards of declaring death by neurological criteria–popularly known as “brain death.” Now, there’s some more information out about that problem. From the story:

Guidelines for determining brain death differ substantially between major U.S. hospitals, a national survey shows, and few stick to parameters established by the American Academy of Neurology.

“There are substantial differences in practice that may have consequences for the determination of death and initiation of transplant procedures,” Dr. David M. Greer, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues report in the medical journal Neurology.

Greer’s team requested guidelines from hospitals named as having the top 50 neurology programs in the nation in 2006 by US News and World Report. Only 42 percent of the hospitals required that a neurologist or neurosurgeon perform the examination for brain death, results showed. Among the 71 percent that stipulated multiple examinations, the time required between examinations varied from 1 to 24 hours. Furthermore, the authors point out, “It was surprising to find that the cause of brain death was not stipulated in a large number (37 percent) of guidelines.”

This is a very serious matter. The trust of the American people depends on getting this most fundamental matter right.


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