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Critically Speaking

Mar 25, 2020

Dr. Adam Schiavi is an assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His areas of clinical expertise include anesthesiology, neurological critical care, disorders of consciousness and brain death diagnosis, clinical ethics, critical care medicine, and traumatic brain injury.


In this episode, Therese Markow and Dr. Adam Schiavi discuss how the definition of death has changed throughout history, what the current definition is, and how that is determined by the medical technology of the time. Brain death is the current definition of death, medically, but what happens to a body after brain death is determined can vary depending on the state you live in. This can be a trying time for families and for the providers involved with the now-deceased patient as the definition of death is not understood by everyone. They also discuss how brain death differs from other states of consciousness and how people often confuse the terminology of those different states, as well as the ability to hope for healing from all but brain death.


 Key Takeaways:

  • The total cessation of all functions of the brain is the current definition of brain death in the United States. This definition is based on a clinical exam testing all parts of the brain, typically done by somebody certified in doing brain death determinations.
  • You have to have a reason for the neurologic exam to be declining. Without a reason, you can't call somebody brain dead.
  • You can replace every organ in the body, but you cannot replace the brain and when the brain dies, the body dies all the time 100% unless those organ systems are artificially supportive. 


"Our culture changes with technology and the way we define death is a part of culture. As that culture has shifted, the way we define death has also shifted with our new technologies of how we can actually determine whether people are dead." —  Dr. Adam Schiavi


Connect with Dr. Adam Schiavi:

Johns Hopkins Bio: Adam Schiavi, MD, PhD, MS



Connect with Therese:


Twitter: @CritiSpeak




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