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Your child is brain dead.
  1. A. W. Blair,
  2. C. R. Steer
  1. Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, UK.


    One to two per cent of admissions to Paediatric Intensive Care Units eventually fulfil the criteria for brain death, implying the need for very difficult decisions. Brain death is defined as irreversible loss of function of the whole brain. The diagnostic criteria caused a great deal of anxiety but are now the subject of a consensus approach. When the situation can be anticipated it is of immense value for the professional staff to develop a good working relationship with the parents to help and support them through the phase of impending disaster and facing the issue when the time actually comes. However, it is vital to help parents to make their own decision regarding continuation or otherwise of life support and they should be supported in whichever decision they take. They must be absolutely convinced that the child is brain dead and this territory may have to be covered again and again in discussion, questions must be answered factually, and time allowed for reflection. Stage management of the process of 'switching off' is vital and the parents' wishes may vary widely from one family to another. They must be warned what is likely to happen and provided with appropriate privacy and support for expression of their grief. The question of asking for post-mortem permission has to be handled sensitively and long-term support for the parents must be offered. Education of undergraduate and postgraduate doctors in this area is now receiving more attention with skills being increased by video teaching and role play. It should not be overlooked that the professional staff attending such patients sometimes require counselling and support themselves.

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