Determining Brain Death: 3/3

Last post, we talked about the use of apnea testing to determine brain death after the patient meets certain criteria.

There is one additional test that may be done to determine brain death and that is a brain perfusion scan.

This procedure is done in radiology which can make it very difficult. Imagine taking a ventilated patient through the halls of the hospital along with several IV pumps giving medication that are keeping the patient alive. That in itself is not a fun excursion.

Once the patient is in radiology, they are given an injection of a radioisotope—something that will trace where the blood is flowing. After the injection, photos are taken of the patient’s brain. If there is no blood flow to the brain, and this must include the brain stem as well, then the patient is said to have “brain death” and is clinically dead at that point.
This You Tube video provides a very good explanation of these concepts.

After brain death is determined, the patient is not immediately withdrawn from life support but a conversation will ensue with the family that the patient has died and they will be encouraged to discontinue life support.

Generally, families are given a lot of time to come to terms with this decision. Anywhere from 1-3 days is reasonable. They may want to fly in additional family members to be present when life support is discontinued. I’ve never been part of a situation where, when the finding of brain death were fully explained, where families chose not to discontinue support.

This is not to say that the patient may not proceed to circulatory death despite receiving life support. Once the brain has died, it does become very difficult to keep the body functioning.

Does this change your mind about how brain death is determined?

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