Hollywood portrayals of brain death don't match real life

REUTERS | Andrew M. Seaman
(Reuters Health) - Portrayals of brain death in film and television are as fictional as the characters, researchers say.

After reviewing films and TV shows featuring a storyline about brain death, they found that while 19 characters were declared brain dead, no portrayals showed a proper examination that would allow doctors to reach that conclusion.

"In most cases it was inaccurate and misleading," said lead author Dr. Ariane Lewis, a neurologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

The inaccurate and unprofessional portrayals could be a problem for real people faced, for example, with deciding when to donate a loved one's organs, or in understanding legislation on the topic, write Lewis and her coauthors - an ethicist and a fellow neurologist - in the American Journal of Transplantation.

Unlike living people in comas or in a persistent vegetative state, someone pronounced brain dead is legally dead. Brain death occurs when brain function ends and the body can only be kept functioning by machines.

Declaring a person brain dead requires an extensive examination set by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) that looks for - among other things - the patient being comatose, lacking brainstem reflexes and not being able to breathe on their own. Continue reading
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