Spinal shock and brain death': somatic pathophysiological equivalence and implications for the integrative-unity rationale

Spinal Cord. 1999 May;37(5):313-24. doi: 10.1038/sj.sc.3100836.


The somatic pathophysiology of high spinal cord injury (SCI) not only is of interest in itself but also sheds light on one of the several rationales proposed for equating 'brain death' (BD) with death, namely that the brain confers integrative unity upon the body, which would otherwise constitute a mere conglomeration of cells and tissues. Insofar as the neuropathology of BD includes infarction down to the foramen magnum, the somatic pathophysiology of BD should resemble that of cervico-medullary junction transection plus vagotomy. The endocrinologic aspects can be made comparable either by focusing on BD patients without diabetes insipidus or by supposing the victim of high SCI to have pre-existing therapeutically compensated diabetes insipidus. The respective literatures on intensive care for BD organ donors and high SCI corroborate that the two conditions are somatically virtually identical. If SCI victims are alive at the level of the 'organism as a whole', then so must be BD patients (the only significant difference being consciousness). Comparison with SCI leads to the conclusion that if BD is to be equated with death, a more coherent reason must be adduced than that the body as a biological organism is dead.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Death / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Metaphysics
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*