The interpretation of clinical tests for brain death is often complicated by the presence of facial trauma, or the use of barbiturate therapy for reduction of intracranial pressure. We propose a non-invasive technique--transcranial Doppler (TCD) sonography for the diagnosis of brain death. One hundred and forty comatose patients, 111 of whom were believed to be brain dead underwent TCD examinations. TCD assessments of the middle cerebral arteries (MCAs) and the basilar artery were performed before formal clinical testing for brain death. The TCD spectra recorded in the brain dead (BD) patients consisted of short, sharp systolic peaks followed by retrograde flow during diastole or just systolic peaks with absent flow in either direction. There were no survivors among patients who displayed these two TCD patterns. The 29 comatose control patients always showed flow throughout the cardiac cycle--no retrograde flow was ever recorded in these patients all of whom survived. Of particular interest were the basilar artery results. In nine BD patients no MCA signals could be obtained while good quality signals were recorded from the basilar artery. The TCD results agreed essentially with 100% accuracy with clinical testing and four vessel cerebral angiography. This paper illustrates the usefulness of TCD examination of the MCAs and especially the basilar artery in the diagnosis of brain death.