A person dies when brain function ceases, the heart stops beating, and breathing and blood circulation cease. Because life-support techniques have become so advanced, it is possible that even in the face of fatal injury or unrecoverable illness, the heart can be kept beating with medication, and respiration (breathing) can be artificially performed with a ventilator. The concept of brain death developed in response to these advanced medical techniques that can maintain some bodily functions. Brain death, as understood in US law and medical practice, occurs when there is no function of the entire brain. The brainstem is the area of the brain that controls breathing and circulation and therefore controls essential life functions. When the brain, including the brainstem, has ceased to function, the individual is truly dead by medical and legal standards. Thus, brain death is real death. The March 18, 2009, issue of JAMA includes an article about brain death. This Patient Page is based on one published in the May 14, 2008, issue of JAMA.