First Check

Fact-check: Brain death is not a hoax

HealthLEADS First Check

Unscientific claims about brain death often deter people from organ donation. However, it’s important to know that there are strict medical criteria for organ retrieval.

Unscientific and unverified messages on organ donation are rampant on social media. In one such viral video, Dr Paul Byrne, a neonatologist and pro-life activist, is seen promoting the unempirical personal belief that brain death is a lie and that one shouldn’t donate their organs. (Archive link

Often, such unsubstantiated views tend to create confusion and fear among people. So, it is important to get the right information in order to examine the truth behind such claims. “It’s our responsibility to make people aware that brain death is death. And organ donation is usually done following brain death,” says Dr Avnish Seth, Head, Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Manipal Hospital, New Delhi and Head of Manipal Organ Sharing and Transplant (MOST).

In a brain-dead patient, Dr Seth explains, the brain dies but as the breathing is supported artificially on a ventilator, the heart continues to beat for a few hours to a few days, thus keeping the vital organs alive. That said, brain death entails the irreversible loss of all brain function. 

The window between brain death and cardiac standstill is the period when organs may be retrieved for transplantation. “However, the decision to use the organs or not is based on strict medical criteria that are assessed by experts prior to each organ retrieval,” notes Dr Seth. 

Beware of unscientific narratives on social media and think before you share misleading information.

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