Can a Parent Refuse the Brain Death Examination?

The American Academy of Neurology believes that doctors have the right to do tests to evaluate whether a patient is brain dead even if the family does not consent. They argue that physicians have “both the moral authority and professional responsibility” to do such evaluations, just as they have the authority and responsibility to declare someone dead by circulatory criteria. Not everyone agrees. Truog and Tasker argue that apnea testing to confirm brain death has risks and that, for some families, those risks may outweigh the benefits. So, what should doctors do when caring for a patient whom they believe to be brain dead but whose parents refuse to allow testing to confirm that the patient meets neurologic criteria for death? In this article, we analyze the issues that arise when parents refuse such testing.

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