Steven Laureys, MD, PhD Joseph J. Fins, MD, FACP THE HISTORY OF BRAIN DEATH For thousands of years, the term “death” meant the permanent stopping of the heart and breathing. However, when Bjorn Ibsen from Denmark invented the artificial respirator in the 1950s, breathing and heartbeat could be continued when people were in a deep coma. This invention and the rise of better medicine and medical care forced doctors to rethink the old definition of “death.” In 1959, French doctors Mollaret and Goulon first described what is now called “brain death.” In 1968, the rules for deciding “brain death” were first put in place with guidelines called the Harvard criteria. These were developed by anesthesiologist and early bioethicist Henry K. Beecher. Following Christian Barnard’s first transplant of a human heart in 1967, Beecher wrote that organ donation from those who were “hopelessly unconscious” would be beneficial.