Baby declared “brain dead” begins to breathe on his own. 

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

You should be concerned that several countries are considering changes to brain death protocols to make it easier to declare someone brain dead.

An article about Harrison Ellmer was published in the Daily Mail in October 2015. Harrison was declared brain dead when he was three weeks old. He is three years old in this picture.

An article by Sadiya Chowdhury published last week by Sky News stated that a senior doctor was “shocked” when a baby started breathing on his own two weeks after being declared brain stem dead after two tests. According to the article:

On Thursday, a senior doctor told the High Court she was “shocked” when a baby declared brain stem dead after two tests began breathing by himself two weeks later.

The court heard that ventilation continued on the four-month-old after he was declared dead because there was an ongoing legal dispute.

In July, doctors treating him at a London hospital were forced to rescind “the clinical ascertainment of death” after a nurse noticed the infant had independent rhythmic breathing
.

The doctor had stated that none of them had seen this before. Chowdhury reported also on the case of Lewis Roberts.

In March 2021, 18-year-old Lewis Roberts was declared brain stem dead after a road accident but began breathing independently hours before his organs were to be extracted for donation. Today he is well enough to play football and basketball.

Last month his sister told Sky News the test is done too soon.

“They rushed it through,” she said.

“Eight months ago he was sat in a wheelchair, his eyes were gone, he couldn’t speak. From how he was then to how he is now, that just shows that the brain can heal given the time.”

The article states that a doctor told the High Court that the case of this baby shows that there is a problem with brain stem testing. The doctor told the court that: 

“Brain injuries need time to assess fully, to understand what is permanent damage and what is temporary”

There are plans to change the Uniform Determination of Death Act to align the law with the current practise. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is concerned that the proposals will lead to more people being declared brain dead for the purposes of organ donation. Lewis Roberts was hours away from having his organs extracted but now he is well enough to play football and basketball.