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Neurological Determination of Death for Organ Donation

I want to be an organ donor, but how are they sure I am really brain dead?  While it might seem a strange question, it is a more common one than you would think.  Especially in regards to wishing to be an organ donor.  The answer to which is what is called a neurological determination of death, which I will go more into detail below.

Firstly, make sure you’ve identified yourself as an organ donor

It is the ultimate altruistic act to consent to organ donation.  In order for organ donation to be viable the donor must have identified themselves as an organ donor and informed their Power for Personal Care of their wishes. Ideally the potential donor has also signed an organ consent card.  A potential donor may also register with the Organ and Tissue Donor Registry for Ontario through the Trillium Gift of Life Network.

What types of death enable potential organ donation?

The usual scenario to be a potential organ donor is a sudden catastrophic brain injury resulting from perhaps a vehicle accident or a sudden blow to the head.

While some people would like viable organs to be donated to a recipient, there is still some hesitation with knowing that they are biologically dead and therefore there would be no chance of meaningful recovery.

How are they sure?

To be sure there is no possibility of meaningful brain recovery, blood enzymes are tested and repeated again within 24 hours.

While this testing is being done, the donor is keep alive on life support systems, mandating that organ donation be done in a medical setting.

In 2003, the Canadian Council for Donation and Transplantation (CCDT), held a forum on Severe Brain Injury to Neurological Determination of Death and CMAJ 2006, March 14,174(6), S1-12. One of the outcomes from this forum was the development of the clinical practice and guidelines for neurological determination of death.  In June 2007, the CCDT developed and released a medical educational video on the neurological determination of death.

After the viable organs have been retrieved, the deceased is released into the care of their loved ones.

Does organ donation affect the celebration of life afterwards?

Often I am asked will organ donation affect the type of funeral or celebration of life I can have?  The answer is no.  If an open casket was desired, that is still possible.  The only impact will be a delay of the release of the deceased from the hospital into the care of the funeral home.

Life is short and the direction our life takes can literally change in a moment.  Hence the importance of having your wishes documented and prepaid.  Also be sure that your Estate Trustee knows where your important papers are such as your will and prepaid funeral certificate.

I would love to hear from you and help get the conversation started.  You can connect with me via email or telephone, leave a comment here on the site or click the contact tab at the bottom of the screen if you are reading this post on the website. Don’t forget to join in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter too!


Katherine Downey is the #1 Funeral Preplanning Professional in Canada for the fourth time. She is a professional educator, author, licensed funeral director and insurance advisor. To set an appointment or have your questions answered, please contact Kat directly

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