Article Text

Brainstem death in an intensive care unit: a cultural perspective
  1. Abigail Maynard, Staff Nurse
  1. Cardiology Unit, St Thomas’ Hospital, London. At the time of writing she was undertaking a nursing degree at King’s College London


This article will discuss the case of a 17-year-old man, Koju, who was stabbed in the heart following a fight. He was admitted to an intensive care unit but was pronounced brainstem dead after 4 days. An explanation of brainstem death will be given. Koju and his family were Vietnamese in origin and his parents spoke very little English. The article will examine two central areas of care: dealing with death from a cultural perspective; and loss, grief and bereavement from the family’s perspective. It will discuss how health professionals can help with the grieving during the immediate care period and in the longer term. The article will provide an overview of Buddhist attitudes towards death, describe the care given with respect to the family’s cultural and religious wishes and emphasise the importance of assessing spiritual and religious needs at the end of life. Specific rituals/traditions surrounding death and how these can help with loss and bereavement will be discussed. Pseudonyms have been used to preserve patient and family confidentiality (Nursing and Midwifery Council, 2008). Conflicts of interest: none

  • Brainstem death
  • Death and dying
  • Grief and bereavement
  • Intensive care
  • Cultural perspectives

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