Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Pregnancy and Brain Death: Lack of Guidance in U.S. Hospital Policies

 2016 May 9. [Epub ahead of print]

Pregnancy and Brain Death: Lack of Guidance in U.S. Hospital Policies.

Author information

  • 1Division of Neurocritical Care, Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, New York.
  • 2Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, Michigan.
  • 3Department of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.


Objective The death of Marlise Muñoz, a pregnant woman who suffered an anoxic brain injury in November 2013, highlights the social, ethical, legal, and medical controversies associated with brain death in pregnancy. We sought to evaluate whether institutions in the United States have policies in place for situations in which a pregnant woman is declared brain dead. Study Design Institutional brain-death protocols from hospitals in the United States were obtained in cooperation with local and regional organ procurement agencies. Each protocol was reviewed to determine if and how it addressed brain death in pregnancy. Results We reviewed 317 unique brain-death protocols. In eight protocols (2.5%), it was noted that a pregnant patient could not be evaluated for brain death if the fetus could be preserved. Of the protocols that permitted brain-death evaluation, 289 (93.8%) did not include guidance about fetal management after maternal brain death and 305 (99%) did not indicate who was responsible for making decisions for the fetus. Conclusion Very few institutional brain-death policies address the issue of pregnancy. The creation of guidelines on management of the social and ethical challenges associated with brain death in pregnancy may be helpful.

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