“Acceptance in Theory but not Practice Chinese Medical Providers Perception of Brain Death” by Qing Yang, Yi Fan, Qian Cheng, Xin Li, Kaveh Khoshnood, andGeoffrey Miller has been published in the most recent issue of Neuroethics:
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BackgroundThe brain death standard allowing a declaration of death based on neurological criteria is legally endorsed and routinely practiced in the West but not in Asia. In China, attempts to legalize the brain death standard have occurred several times without success. Cultural, religious, and philosophical factors have been proposed to explain this difference, but there is a lack of empirical studies to support this hypothesis.
Methods476 medical providers (72 attending physicians, 84 residents, 210 medical students, 110 nurses) from three academic hospitals in Hunan, China, completed a selfadministered survey including a 12-question brain death clinical knowledge assessment and hypothetical vignettes describing brain dead patients.
ResultsThe response rate was 95.2%. Almost all of the providers had heard of the term brain death. More than half have encountered presumed brain dead patients. Two-thirds accepted brain death as an ethical standard to determine human death. The mean knowledge score was 8.501.83 out of 12. When given the description of a brain dead patient, 50.7% considered the patient dead, 51.9% would withdraw life support, and 40.6% would allow organ procurement. Both provider and patient characteristics contributed to the providers decisions. Ethical acceptance was the most important independent predictor for brain death acknowledgement, followed by high knowledge scores, and the belief that the soul lives in the brain. Religious faith and associated beliefs did not have a significant effect.
ConclusionsNotwithstanding scarce official accounts, recognition of the brain death standard is not uncommon in China. Chinese medical providers can adequately define the medical characteristics of brain death and accept it in theory, but hesitate to apply it to practice in the vignettes. Legalization is paramount in providing the protection providers need to comfortably declare brain death. However the medical decision-making surrounding brain death is complex and the provider’s past experiences and emotions may also influence the process.