Donation after Neurological Death

Donation after neurological death refers to organs that are recovered after a patient has been declared brain dead.

Declaration of Brain Death

  • Brain death is irreversible loss of brain and brainstem function and is equivalent to legal death. In order to declare a patient brain dead, a neurologist or neurosurgeon must perform two neurological exams six hours apart that demonstrate a complete absence of brain function.
  • Additionally, an apnea test must be performed. During this test, the patient is briefly disconnected from the ventilator (breathing machine) for 8-10 minutes to see if the patient is able to initiate breaths without the help of a machine. If the patient does not make any attempts to breathe, the apnea test supports the diagnosis of brain death.
  • If, for some reason, the physician is not able to perform a part of the neurological exam or the apnea test, then a confirmatory test must be performed. This may be an ultrasound of the vessels in the head, an injection of dye to examine the vessels in the head or a special radionucleotide test of the brain.
  • It is most important to understand that brain death is death.
  • Organs that can be donated after neurological death include heart, lung, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and intestines. Tissue and eyes can also be donated.