US needs uniform brain death standard, neurology professionals say

The American Academy of Neurology is calling on U.S. legislators to require a uniform definition of brain death and uniform policies in medical facilities to ensure compliance to brain death guidelines.

The American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society endorsed the academy's position statement.

"Brain death is defined as the death of the individual due to irreversible loss of function of the entire brain," according to the academy. "It is the equivalent of circulatory death, which is due to irreversible loss of function of the circulatory system, which includes the heart."

The brain death standards for adults and children widely accepted by the medical profession are the American Academy of Neurology's 2010 evidence-based guideline update, determining brain death in adults, and the 2011 guidelines for the determination of brain death in infants and children.

The academy is not aware of any cases in which adhering to these guidelines led to inaccurate determination of death with return of any brain function, but only Nevada has legislation requiring these guidelines as the medical standard for determining brain death.

"The AAN believes that a specific, uniform standard for the determination of brain death is critically important to provide the highest quality patient-centered neurologic and end-of-life care," James Russell, DO, first author of the statement and chair of the AAN's Ethics, Law, and Humanities Committee, said in a news release.

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