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Fascinating brain finding shows what happens after death

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Brain activity can continue after death and we never knew

Researchers are the first to admit we have much to learn about the brain. A new and fascinating study shows what happens to the brain after death.


A team of scientists from the University of Western Ontario in Canada were surprised and "shocked" to find brain activitycan continue after dying.

Curious researchers surprised

This is how the scientists discovered brain activity continues after after a person is officially pronounced dead - meaning there is no longer a heartbeat and no circulating blood flow throughout the body.

Researchers wanted to answer some ethical questions about organ donation.

Typically, organs are harvested as soon as possible after a person dies. The study authors wanted to see what goes on the the brain during the process.

What they discovered is unexplainable.

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One patient out of four studied showed brain activity, measured by electroencephalogram (EEG).

Death for organ donation is technically defined by absence of brain waves. Yet technology, such as ventilators and medications that restore circulation can keep the heart beating and blood pressure intact for extended periods, which often poses challenges for clinicians and family members who have to make decisions about life support.

The researchers found the brain could continue to function for ten minutes after a patient has no heart rate and no blood pressure.

Usually, and in the three other patients studied, brain activity ceases before cardiopulmonary function stops.

The Canadian researchers have no insight into why brain activity continued after death.

The researchers concluded: “Further study of the electroencephalogram during the withdrawal of life sustaining therapies will add clarity to medical, ethical, and legal concerns for donation after circulatory determined death."

Can J Neurol Sci. 2017 Mar;44(2):139-145. doi: 10.1017/cjn.2016.309.