Defining Death

Once 'brain death' occurs, organs can be harvested

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Although organ donation is becoming more common, there is still a severe shortage of organs. Even the organs of people who had agreed to donate them aren't always available.

That's because the families of potential donors often don't understand the term "brain death," says the American Medical Association (AMA). Although the term sounds to some like a precursor of death, the AMA says brain death means the patient is gone.

Once a person has been declared brain dead, his organs can be kept going by artificial means until transplantation. The AMA says it's crucial for doctors to explain this to the families of potential donors.

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