[Organ Donation] What is meant by brain death?

One question that concerns people when they are considering organ donation is on brain death. What is it, exactly, and are you really dead if a doctor pronounces you brain dead?

What is brain death?

A person is dead when their heart and lungs cease to function, but also when their brain has permanently stopped working.

The brain needs oxygen-rich blood constantly and if it (at a normal body temperature and without medication) does not receive oxygen-rich blood for more than a few minutes, it becomes irreparably damaged.

This damage causes all brain activity to cease permanently. Even artificial respiration and medication will not force blood to flow to the brain anymore and to continue treatment is considered pointless under these circumstances. A brain-dead person has passed away.

Irreversible & complete loss of brain activity

Someone is brain dead when there is irreversible and complete loss of function in the brain and brainstem, including the medulla oblongata.

This means the person cannot breath autonomously, all their brain functions have ceased and their body is no longer able to regulate blood pressure and temperature.

Brain death is only diagnosed in the case of a fatal brain injury. The cause of this has to be known and untreatable: for instance, as a result of a brain haemorrhage, an accident or a primary brain tumour.

Special information

The Dutch Transplantation Society has created a video and an animation in which brain death is explained clearly and concisely.

In this video, Berry Kremer, a neurologist at the University Medical Centre in Groningen, explains how the brain works, its function in the body and which aspects of its functioning are involved in the term "brain death."

The pronouncement of brain death is made with the utmost care and according to the Brain Death Protocol, which has been drafted by the Health Council and is part of the Organ Donation Act.

The protocol has to be followed by all hospital, at all times.

This animation shows step-by-step which examinations doctors must carry out before they can pronounce a person brain dead.

Learn more

 From October 14, a specifically themed page with relevant information about organ donation can be found here.
 Further information about Donor Week 2013 can be seen here.
 Learn more about becoming an organ donor in the Netherlands.



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