When Is Dead Really Dead?

February 17, 2021

Dr. Andrew SeelyDr. Andrew SeelyResearchers at The Ottawa Hospital played a major role in a CHEO-led study published in the New England Journals of Medicine. The study, led by Dr. Sonny Dhanani, asked over 600 families to allow their loved ones in the ICU to have their vital signs monitored after withdrawal of life-sustaining measures.

The study showed that cardiac activity often stopped and re-started several times during the dying process before it finally stopped completely – but no one regained sustained circulation or consciousness. The study provides evidence to support the current standard of waiting five minutes after the heart stops before determining death and proceeding to organ donation.

The Ottawa Hospital site, led by Dr. Andrew Seely, enrolled 81 participants, making it the #2 site in Canada.

Dr. Seely and Dr. Dhanani have already used the results to develop a tool that may be able to help with the organ donation process.

See the CHEO Research Institute summary.

TOH team: Drs. Andrew Seely, Nathan Scales and Christophe Herry (Dynamical Analysis Lab), Dr. Tim Ramsay (Ottawa Methods Centre) and Rebecca Porteous and Irene Watpool.

Full author list: Sonny Dhanani, Laura Hornby, Amanda van Beinum, Nathan B. Scales, Melanie Hogue, Andrew Baker, Stephen Beed, J. Gordon Boyd, Jennifer A. Chandler, Michaël Chassé, Frederick D’Aragon, Cameron Dezfulian, Christopher J. Doig, Frantisek Duska, Jan O. Friedrich, Dale Gardiner, Teneille Gofton, Dan Harvey, Christophe Herry, George Isac, Andreas H. Kramer, Demetrios J. Kutsogiannis, David M. Maslove, Maureen Meade, Sangeeta Mehta, Laveena Munshi, Loretta Norton, Giuseppe Pagliarello, Tim Ramsay, Katerina Rusinova, Damon Scales, Matous Schmidt, Andrew Seely, Jason Shahin, Marat Slessarev, Derek So, Heather Talbot, Walther N.K.A. van Mook, Petr Waldauf, Matthew Weiss, Jentina T. Wind, and Sam D. Shemie, for the Canadian Critical Care Trials Group and the Canadian Donation and Transplantation Research Program.

Core Resources: Ottawa Methods Centre

Funding: This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as part of the Canadian Donation and Transplantation Research Program, the CHEO Research Institute, and Karel Pavlík Foundation. All research at The Ottawa Hospital is enabled by generous donations to The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.   

Media Contact 
Amelia Buchanan
Senior Communication Specialist
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute