Seeing for themselves – healthcare professionals' views about the presence of family members during brainstem death testing

Majella Doran, Pauline Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
156 Downloads (Pure)


Aims and objectives
To provide an insight into the views of healthcare professionals on the presence of family members during brainstem death testing.

Brainstem death presents families with a paradoxical death that can be difficult to define. International research suggests families should be given the choice to be present at brainstem death testing, yet it appears few units offer families the choice to be present and little attention has been paid to developing practice to enable effective facilitation of choice.

A qualitative, exploratory design was adopted to understand the perceptions of healthcare professionals. Individual semi‐structured interviews were audio‐taped and carried out over two months.

A purposive sample of 10 nurses and 10 doctors from two tertiary intensive care units in the United Kingdom was interviewed, and transcripts were analysed using content analysis to identify emergent categories and themes.

Healthcare professionals indicated different perceptions of death in the context of catastrophic brainstem injury. The majority of participants favoured offering families the choice to be present while acknowledging the influence of organisational culture. Identified benefits included acceptance, closure and better understanding. Suggested challenges involved the assumption of trauma or disruption and sense of obligation for families to accept if choice was offered. Key issues involved improving knowledge and communication skills to individually tailor support for families involved.

If families are to be offered the choice of witnessing brainstem death testing, considering that needs and conventions will differ according to global cultural backgrounds, then key needs must be met to ensure that effective care and support is provided to families and clinicians.

Relevance to clinical practice
A proactive approach to facilitating family choice to be present at testing requires the development of guidelines that accommodate cultural and professional variations to provide excellence in end‐of‐life care.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1597-1607
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Nursing
Issue number11-12
Early online date3 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Jun 2017


  • nurses
  • nursing
  • intensive care
  • critical care
  • brainstem death
  • brainstem
  • death testing
  • choice
  • families
  • end-of-life care


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