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Brandt, Stephan A.; Angstwurm, Heinz (2018): The Relevance of Irreversible Loss of Brain Function as a Reliable Sign of Death. In: Deutsches Ärzteblatt international, Vol. 115, No. 41: pp. 675-681
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BACKGROUND: There is an ongoing need for clear explanation of the diagnostic entity called \textquotedblirreversible loss of brain function\textquotedbl (ILBF), as the absolute reliability of this diagnosis and its significance continue to be widely misunderstood. The determination of death as an objective medical-scientific matter is often not clearly distinguished from various other aspects of death, such as its metaphysical and cultural aspects and the ways in which the living deal with the dead. METHODS: This review is based on articles retrieved by a selective literature search in the PubMed database and on guidelines and standardized diagnostic protocols from Germany and abroad. RESULTS: ILBF can be caused by brain ischemia or anoxia or by any other type of brain disease or injury leading to an elevation of the intracranial pressure above the blood pressure and thereby to an arrest of the cerebral circulation. All situations in which brain function is merely reduced but not abolished, or only temporarily but not permanently abolished, can be clearly differentiated from ILBF through the use of standard diagnostic procedures as recommended in the relevant guidelines. Biological features that are common to all human beings underlie the medical criteria for the determination of death. The most important elements of the determination of death are irreversibility of the loss of brain function, loss of integration of bodily functions into a single living being, and loss of ability for any self-reflection or any independent interaction with the environment. CONCLUSION: ILBF is a reliable sign that a human being is dead. There has never been even one known case of incorrect determination of ILBF after proper application of the standardized diagnostic procedures that are set down in the guideline according to section sign16 of the German Transplantation Law.