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Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2004 Feb;48(2):139-44.

Medical and legal considerations of brain death.

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  • 1Department of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care, Töölö Hospital, Helsinki University Hospital, PO Box 266, 00029 HUS, Helsinki, Finland.


Brain death was first defined in 1968, and since then laws on determining death have been implemented in all countries with active organ transplantation programs. As a prerequisite, the aetiology of brain death has to be known, and all reversible causes of coma have to be excluded. The regulations for the diagnosis of brain death are most commonly given by the national medical associations, and they vary between countries. Thus, the guidelines given in the medical textbooks are not universally applicable. The diagnosis is based on clinical examination, but confirmatory tests, such as angiography or EEG, are allowed on most occasions. Brain death is followed by cardiovascular and hormonal changes, which have implications in the management of a potential organ donor. Spinal reflexes are preserved, and motor and haemodynamic responses are frequently observed in brain dead patients.

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