Guidelines for the determination of brain death in infants and children: an update of the 1987 task force recommendations-executive summary

Ann Neurol. 2012 Apr;71(4):573-85. doi: 10.1002/ana.23552.


Objective: To review and revise the 1987 pediatric brain death guidelines.

Methods: Relevant literature was reviewed. Recommendations were developed using the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation) system.

Conclusions and recommendations: (1) Determination of brain death in term newborns, infants, and children is a clinical diagnosis based on the absence of neurologic function with a known irreversible cause of coma. Because of insufficient data in the literature, recommendations for preterm infants <37 weeks gestational age are not included in these guidelines. (2) Hypotension, hypothermia, and metabolic disturbances should be treated and corrected, and medications that can interfere with the neurologic examination and apnea testing should be discontinued allowing for adequate clearance before proceeding with these evaluations. (3) Two examinations including apnea testing with each examination separated by an observation period are required. Examinations should be performed by different attending physicians. Apnea testing may be performed by the same physician. An observation period of 24 hours for term newborns (37 weeks gestational age) to 30 days of age and 12 hours for infants and children (>30 days to 18 years) is recommended. The first examination determines the child has met the accepted neurologic examination criteria for brain death. The second examination confirms brain death based on an unchanged and irreversible condition. Assessment of neurologic function after cardiopulmonary resuscitation or other severe acute brain injuries should be deferred for 24 hours or longer if there are concerns or inconsistencies in the examination. (4) Apnea testing to support the diagnosis of brain death must be performed safely and requires documentation of an arterial PaCO(2) 20mmHg above the baseline and ≥60mmHg with no respiratory effort during the testing period. If the apnea test cannot be safely completed, an ancillary study should be performed. (5) Ancillary studies (electroencephalogram and radionuclide cerebral blood flow) are not required to establish brain death and are not a substitute for the neurologic examination. Ancillary studies may be used to assist the clinician in making the diagnosis of brain death (a) when components of the examination or apnea testing cannot be completed safely due to the underlying medical condition of the patient; (b) if there is uncertainty about the results of the neurologic examination; (c) if a medication effect may be present; or (d) to reduce the interexamination observation period. When ancillary studies are used, a second clinical examination and apnea test should be performed, and components that can be completed must remain consistent with brain death. In this instance, the observation interval may be shortened, and the second neurologic examination and apnea test (or all components that are able to be completed safely) can be performed at any time thereafter. (6) Death is declared when these above criteria are fulfilled.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Advisory Committees
  • Brain Death / diagnosis*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pediatrics / methods
  • Pediatrics / standards*