Using the brain criterion in organ donation after the circulatory determination of death

J Crit Care. 2016 Jun;33:114-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrc.2016.01.005. Epub 2016 Jan 9.


The UK, France, and Switzerland determine death using the brain criterion even in organ donation after the circulatory determination of death (DCDD), in which the United States and Canada use the circulatory-respiratory criterion. In our analysis of the scientific validity of the brain criterion in DCDD, we concluded that although it may be attractive in theory because it conceptualizes death as a unitary phenomenon, its use in practice is invalid. The preconditions (ie, the absence of reversible causes, such as toxic or metabolic disorders) for determining brain death cannot be met in DCDD. Thus, although brain death tests prove the cessation of tested brain functions, they do not prove that their cessation is irreversible. A stand-off period of 5 to 10 minutes is insufficient to achieve the irreversibility requirement of brain death. Because circulatory cessation inevitably leads to cessation of brain functions, first permanently and then irreversibly, the use of brain criterion is unnecessary to determine death in DCDD. Expanding brain death to permit it to be satisfied by permanent cessation of brain functions is controversial but has been considered as a possible means to declare death in uncontrolled DCDD.

Keywords: Brain death criterion; Determination/diagnosis of death; Donation after the brain determination of death (DBDD); Donation after the circulatory determination of death (DCDD).

MeSH terms

  • Bioethical Issues
  • Blood Circulation
  • Brain Death*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Respiration
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / ethics
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / legislation & jurisprudence*