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Brain Death: Frequently Asked Questions for the General Public

Several national surveys indicate that there is widespread misunderstanding about brain death - by the public as well as the news media. Each year, there are approximately 15,000 to 20,000 deaths by brain death, and, as our population ages, these numbers may increase. Thus, members of the general public are increasingly searching for information about brain death, and they often find conflicting definitions of the term. Well-intentioned but misinformed reporting has resulted in increased confusion. The Neurocritical Care Society, an organization comprised of many the world’s top clinical neuroscience experts, decided to publish this FAQ to shed light upon this topic and dispel the most common misunderstandings.

This FAQ answers questions such as:

  • What is brain death?
  • What causes brain death?
  • What happens to a person once brain death is diagnosed?
  • How can they be dead if their heart is still beating?
  • What if they appear to be responding to my voice?
  • Has anyone ever recovered from brain death?
  • What if a patient's living will or advance directives clearly state that they want all extraordinary measures to be taken to prolong their life?

Brain Death: Frequently Asked Questions for the General Public