Declaring pediatric brain death: current practice in a Canadian pediatric critical care unit.
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OBJECTIVE: To document the criteria used to declare brain death in a pediatric critical care unit (PCCU). DESIGN: Retrospective chart review. SETTING: Regional PCCU in southwestern Ontario. PATIENTS: Sixty patients 16 years of age or less declared brain dead from January 1987 through December 1992. OUTCOME MEASURES: Presence or absence of documentation of irreversible deep coma, nonresponsive cranial nerves, absent brain-stem reflexes, persistent apnea after removal from ventilator, presence or absence of blood flow detected by radioisotope scanning, presence or absence of electroencephalographic evidence of electrocerebral activity. RESULTS: The 60 patients accounted for 1.5% of all PCCU admissions; 17 were under 1 year of age. In 39 cases brain death was diagnosed using clinical criteria ("certified brain death"), which could not be fully applied in the remaining 21 cases ("uncertifiable but suspected brain death"). Electroencephalography and cerebral blood-flow studies with technetium-99m hexamethyl-propyleneamine oxime were used as ancillary tests in 16 patients with certified brain death and in 17 with uncertifiable but suspected brain death who survived long enough to be tested. Electrocerebral silence was demonstrated in all nine patients who underwent electroencephalography. Cerebral blood flow was undetectable in 26 of the 30 patients tested, and an abnormal pattern of blood flow was seen in the remaining 4, all of whom received a diagnosis of certified brain death. CONCLUSIONS: Pediatricians in this large tertiary care referral centre are using clinical criteria based on the 1987 guidelines of the CMA to diagnose brain death in pediatric patients, including neonates. When clinical criteria cannot be fully applied, ancillary methods of investigation are consistently used. Although the soundness of this pattern of practice is established for adults and older children, its applicability to neonates and infants still needs to be validated.