We studied whether the choice of timing of discussing organ donation for the first time with the relatives of a patient with catastrophic brain injury in The Netherlands has changed over time and explored its possible consequences. Second, we investigated how thorough the process of brain death determination was over time by studying the number of medical specialists involved. And we studied the possible influence of the Donor Register on the consent rate.
We performed a retrospective chart review of all effectuated brain dead organ donors between 1987 and 2009 in one Dutch university hospital with a large neurosurgical serving area.
A total of 271 medical charts were collected, of which 228 brain dead patients were included. In the first period, organ donation was discussed for the first time after brain death determination (87%). In 13% of the cases, the issue of organ donation was raised before the first EEG. After 1998, we observed a shift in this practice. Discussing organ donation for the first time after brain death determination occurred in only 18% of the cases. In 58% of the cases, the issue of organ donation was discussed before the first EEG but after confirming the absence of all brain stem reflexes, and in 24% of the cases, the issue of organ donation was discussed after the prognosis was deemed catastrophic but before a neurologist or neurosurgeon assessed and determined the absence of all brain stem reflexes as required by the Dutch brain death determination protocol.
The phases in the process of brain death determination and the time at which organ donation is first discussed with relatives have changed over time. Possible causes of this change are the introduction of the Donor Register, the reintroduction of donation after circulatory death and other logistical factors. It is unclear whether the observed shift contributed to the high refusal rate in The Netherlands and the increase in family refusal in our hospital in the second studied period. Taking published literature on this subject into account, it is possible that this may have a counterproductive effect.