Perhaps the hardest thing for many families to understand is the concept of brain death. The doctors have said that your loved one is medically and legally dead. The only thing that is keeping them functioning is the machine (ventilator) that breathes for them. And yet, as you stand watching them and touch their warm skin, they merely look asleep. You almost expect that at any minute they’ll open their eyes and say, “What happened?” This expectation is normal.
When the brain ceases to function, the person is permanently unable to think, breathe, see, hear, or feel. They are no longer the person you once knew. Without oxygen, the heart stops beating and vital organs such as the kidneys and liver are unable to function. Medical equipment, such as the ventilator, can keep the heart and other vital organs functioning after the brain has died. Without the machine, the person would not breathe on their own and their heart would stop beating within minutes. The following questions will help you better understand organ and tissue donation.