Before life support equipment such as ventilators were used, people with brain death would always die within minutes.

Nowadays it's possible to keep oxygen-rich blood circulating inside the body for some time using life support equipment and procedures.

The ventilator and medications supporting blood pressure will usually be discontinued once brain death is diagnosed.

After a person has died, it may be possible for their organs to be used in transplantations, which can often save the lives of others.

Organ donation

If the deceased person carried an organ donor card, signed the NHS Organ Donor Register or had otherwise consented to a transplant before brain death occurred, there's no legal requirement for the transplant team to obtain consent from a partner or relative.

However, in practice, the transplant team will always seek consent from the deceased person's next of kin, and most hospitals won't carry out a transplant if the person's partner or relatives have strong objections to organ donation going ahead.

If the deceased person had not made their feelings about organ transplants known, hospital staff have to make reasonable enquiries to check that:

  • the deceased person had not expressed an objection to their organs being used in this way after their death
  • there are no objections from a spouse, partner or relatives
  • there are no religious reasons why organ donation can't go ahead (all the major religions in the UK support the principle of organ donation)

It can be difficult for partners and relatives to decide whether to donate a loved one's organs to someone who needs an organ transplant.

Hospital staff are aware of these difficulties and will try to ensure the issue is handled sensitively and thoughtfully.

Read more about organ donation.

Page last reviewed: 21/05/2014

Next review due: 21/05/2016