[Skip to Content]
[Skip to Content Landing]
November 24, 1989

'Brain Death' and Organ Retrieval

Author Affiliations

Michigan State University East Lansing

Michigan State University East Lansing

JAMA. 1989;262(20):2836. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03430200079024

To the Editor. —  Although I heartily agree with their conclusion that health professionals are confused over the meaning of death on a respirator, Youngner et al1 lose sight of the most clinically important concern in a hunt for bigger philosophical game, which encourages a willingness to draw welcome conclusions from insufficient evidence.One of the reported findings is that many health professionals have difficulty understanding and applying the whole-brain criterion of death. This conclusion is based largely on responses to the question, "What brain functions must be lost for a patient to be declared brain dead?" The only response scored as correct was "irreversible loss of all brain function." As a matter of fact, "brain dead" in the vernacular of both the health professions and the lay public refers to a whole spectrum of severe brain damage. If understood in this vaguer sense, it is equally correct to