The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 19, Issue 4, Winter 2019

Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Stephen Hannan, MD
Pages 583-599

Challenges to the Determination of Death by Neurological Criteria

Ethical concerns regarding the conceptual framework for the determination of death by neurological criteria, including several clinical and diagnostic practices, are addressed. The significance of a diagnosis of brain death, diagnostic criteria, and certain technical aspects of the brain-death exam are presented. Standard and ancillary tests that typically help achieve prudential certitude that an individual has died are indicated. Ethical concerns surrounding interinstitutional variability of testing protocols are evaluated and considered, as are potential apnea-testing confounders such as hypotension, hypoxemia, hypercarbia, and penumbra effects during ancillary testing. Potential adjustments to apnea-testing protocols involving capnography, thoracic impedance monitors, or spirometers to assess respiratory efforts are discussed. Situations in which individuals determined to be brain dead “wake up,” or fail to manifest the imminent cessation of somatic functioning typically seen when supported only by a ventilator, are also briefly reviewed.