There is a large number of sites - particularly fundamentalist Christian sites - claiming that the people who meet the diagnostic criteria for brain death are, nonetheless, capable of recovering.

For example:

  • The Truth about Organ Donation: No such thing as "Brain Death"

    [Japanese and German critically ill patients] are being treated with hypothermic therapy. Published results are reporting that 60 to 70 percent of patients are recovering. This is a remarkable success rate!

    Patients with the same types of injuries or conditions in the USA and other countries are deliberately being hastily declared "Brain Dead" so their organs can be taken.

  • KGOV's Real Science Radio (podcast)

    Real Science Radio's list of "brain dead" patients who've recovered tells shows that doctors and hospitals are sometimes dead wrong.

  • Organ Facts' "Brain death is not death"

    There were never sound scientific or philosophical grounds for a redefinition of death based on the loss of testable brain function while the body remains alive


    [...]the apnoea test, which might lead to the misdiagnosis of respiratory centre failure if inadequately stimulating. If stringent, it might prove lethal

Many examples are given. When I searched for some of the names of the alleged victims, I found multiple pages of similar credibility nearly exclusively. I could find no scientific or other veracious sources.

Is a diagnosis of brain death reliable, in that the patient is not able to meaningfully recover and become conscious again?

  • 3
    Wikipedia has a large section discussing the difficulty of defining death. It doesn't seem to be particularly controversial to say that diagnosing brain death is difficult, and there is no universally agreed method, which renders the question of "surviving after a diagnosis brain death" rather complicated.
    – IMSoP
    Jun 22, 2019 at 18:10
  • 1
    @IMSoP: Actually, that does seem to be controversial. This article in the New England Journal of Medicine argues it is well-entrenched in practice and law (in at least 45 states of the USA), it is clearly defined, and says it gives families the ability to know that their loved ones "absolutely beyond recovery". It doesn't give sources, so it is not useful in an answer, but it challenges your comment.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 23, 2019 at 2:53
  • 1
    @Kevin: We are basically agreeing. Teasing out the issues: Is "brain death" philosophically/religiously equivalent to death? Article has opinoin, but it is irrelevant to the question. Is brain death well defined? IMSoP says No, article says Yes. Is brain death easily detected? Article says No (without reference). We need a reference for the answer - if doctors make mistakes, then a diagnosis is unreliable. Is brain death permanent? Article says Yes (in passing, without reference). We need a reference for the answer. If an accurate diagnosis isn't permanent, then it is unreliable.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 23, 2019 at 16:19
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    @IMSoP: Oh no, I misspoke and caused confusion (including to myself). Sorry. I should have written: "Is brain death easily detected? Article says Yes (without reference)" Here's a quote: "There are clear medical criteria that can be reliably and reproducibly utilized to determine that death has occurred. If professional standards are followed properly, there are no false positives." Again - they provide no reference to support that claim, so I don't trust it.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 24, 2019 at 13:11
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    I started some digging into the topic and noticed that the first quoted article was misinterpreted by you (and probably deliberately by the aouthor). It says that critically ill patients can recover if treated with hypothermic therapy (which is true according to my research). It never said that brain dead patients recover. Hypothermic therapy slows down metabolism and gives weakened brain cells (after a stroke or asphyxiation) time to recover. It doesn't "cure" brain death and isn't applyed to patients after they're diagnosed with brain death (at least not in Germany).
    – Elmy
    Jun 27, 2019 at 12:12


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