Pediatric brain death certification: A narrative review

Nina Fainberg*, Leslie Mataya, Matthew Kirschen, Wynne Morrison

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In the five decades since its inception, brain death has become an accepted medical and legal concept throughout most of the world. There was initial reluctance to apply brain death criteria to children as they are believed more likely to regain neurologic function following injury. In spite of early trepidation, criteria for pediatric brain death certification were first proposed in 1987 by a multidisciplinary committee comprised of experts in the medical and legal communities. Protocols have since been developed to standardize brain death determination, but there remains substantial variability in practice throughout the world. In addition, brain death remains a topic of considerable ethical, philosophical, and legal controversy, and is often misrepresented in the media. In the present article, we discuss the history of brain death and the guidelines for its determination. We provide an overview of past and present challenges to its concept and diagnosis from biophilosophical, ethical and legal perspectives, and highlight differences between adult and pediatric brain death determination. We conclude by anticipating future directions for brain death as related to the emergence of new technologies. It is our position that providers should endorse the criteria for brain death diagnosis in children as proposed by the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and Child Neurology Society (CNS), in order to prevent controversy and subjectivity surrounding what constitutes life versus death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2738-2748
Number of pages11
JournalTranslational Pediatrics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Brain death diagnosis
  • Brain death ethics
  • Brain death guidelines
  • Brain death legislation
  • Pediatric brain death

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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