Use of neurological criteria to declare death in children

William D. Graf*, Leon G. Epstein, Matthew P. Kirschen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Accurate determination of death is a necessary responsibility of the medical profession. Brain death, or death by neurological criteria (DNC), can be legally declared after the determination of permanent loss of clinical brain function, including the capacity for consciousness, brainstem reflexes, and the ability to breathe spontaneously. Despite longstanding debates over the exact definition of brain death or DNC and how it is determined, most middle- and high-income countries have compatible medical protocols and legal policies for brain death or DNC. This review summarizes the 2023 updated guidelines for brain death or DNC determination, which integrate adult and pediatric diagnostic criteria. We discuss the clinical challenges related to brain death or DNC determination in infants and young children. We emphasize that physicians must follow the standardized and meticulous evaluation processes outlined in these guidelines to reduce diagnostic error and ensure no false positive determinations. An essential component of the brain death or DNC evaluation is appropriate and transparent communication with families. Ongoing efforts to promote consistency and legal uniformity in the declaration of death are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalDevelopmental Medicine and Child Neurology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology


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