Intensive Care Medicine

, Volume 30, Issue 7, pp 1484–1486 | Cite as

Maternal brain death: medical, ethical and legal issues

  • Alan Lane
  • Andrew Westbrook
  • Deirdre Grady
  • Rory O’Connor
  • Timothy J. Counihan
  • Brian Marsh
  • John G. Laffey
Brief Report


Case presentation

We present the case of a pregnant woman who experienced a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis resulting in brain death at 13 weeks gestation. We discuss the management of the mother and foetus following this tragic event. We also discuss the complex medical, legal and ethical issues that arose following maternal brain death. The central question is whether continuing maternal organ supportive measures in an attempt to prolong gestation to attain foetal viability is appropriate, or whether it constitutes futile care.


Successful maintenance of maternal brain somatic function to facilitate foetal maturation in utero has been reported. While the gestational age of the foetus is central to resolving this issue, there is no clear upper physiological limit to the prolongation of somatic function following brain death. Furthermore, medical experience regarding prolonged somatic support is limited. Finally, the legal rights conferred on the foetus may vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction in which the maternal brain death occurs and may have important implications.


A consensus building approach, involving the family, is essential to resolving these potentially conflicting issues.


Maternal Brain death Brainstem death Foetus Ethics Legal 



The authors wish to acknowledge the legal assistance and advice provided by Padraic Brennan, David Barniville B.L. and Donal O’Donnell S.C.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan Lane
    • 2
  • Andrew Westbrook
    • 2
  • Deirdre Grady
    • 2
  • Rory O’Connor
    • 3
  • Timothy J. Counihan
    • 4
  • Brian Marsh
    • 5
  • John G. Laffey
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Anaesthesia, Clinical Sciences InstituteNational University of IrelandGalwayIreland
  2. 2.Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive CareUniversity College HospitalGalwayIreland
  3. 3.Department of Obstetrics and GynaecologyUniversity College HospitalGalwayIreland
  4. 4.Department of NeurologyUniversity College HospitalGalwayIreland
  5. 5.Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive CareMater HospitalDublinIreland

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