• attitudes;
  • consent;
  • decision-making;
  • neurology;
  • nurse–patient interaction;
  • nurses;
  • nursing;
  • qualitative approaches



To describe factors people consider important in deciding whether or not to donate their brain for research after death.


Brain tissue retrieved at post-mortem is needed to further research into neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease. Previous research has focussed mainly on attitudes to organ donation for transplantation.


Data were gathered and analysed using a qualitative approach based on grounded theory.


Nineteen people who had made a decision about brain donation, five people with Parkinson's and 14 unaffected individuals, were identified through theoretical sampling. Interviews conducted between September 2007–January 2008 were analysed to identify themes representing the concerns of participants, when making a decision.


The three main themes identified were views and beliefs about post-mortem, the importance of family and the things people do not talk about. Although participants were more familiar with the concept of organ donation for transplantation, unanimous support was expressed for brain donation for research. However, beliefs about death and post-mortem, influence of family and the difficulty in talking and thinking about things to do with death all posed barriers to consent when actually asked to make a decision. For some, however, being asked had acted as a catalyst, transforming previously held positive attitudes into a decision to consent.


Guidelines for asking developed from these findings highlight the importance of discussing the issue to raise awareness in potential donors, involving family members, and giving accurate and appropriate information to inform, reassure and to dispel misconceptions.