Jahi McMath is a 13-year-old California girl, who was pronounced legally brain-dead on December 9. Her parents believe Jahi’s mind is still active, and have been fighting to keep her on life support. Today, Jahi is scheduled to be removed from her ventilator. Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Came Into the Hospital to Have Her Tonsils Removed
According to ABC news, Jahi originally came into Children’s Hospital of Oakland on December 9, for a tonsillectomy, and adenotonsillectomy, to help with her sleep apnea. Upon waking from the operation, she started bleeding, went into cardiac arrest, and was pronounced brain dead 3 days later. The hospital’s legal argument for taking Jahi off of life support refers to “serious complications” with her surgery, but does not specify exactly what went wrong:
2. McMath’s Family Believes Jahi Is Still Alive
And they’re trying to find a hospital that agrees. Children’s Hospital of Oakland refuses to perform the surgical operations necessary to keep Jahi alive. The hospital’s attorney Douglas Straus argued that “it would violate the ethical canons of the hospital to continue to provide care to a deceased person.”
The family’s attorney, Christopher Dolan explained why his clients believe it is too soon disconnect Jahi by saying:
“This child is warm. She is soft to the touch. If you rub her foot, her foot curls in. The mother has yelled in her ear, and the daughter has lifted up her arms.”
Dolan told the AP that they are waiting to hear from a potentially sympathetic facility in New York state. The family has also asked Judge Grillo to allow a third evaluation by Paul Byrne, a pediatric professor at the University of Toledo. Byrne co-edited a book titled “Beyond Brain Death” in 2001, which collected a variety of arguments against using brain-based measures to determine whether a person is alive. The hospital has objected to the request, arguing that Byrne is not qualified, as he is not a pedaitric neurologist.
Byrne told CBS News that while he could not comment in detail without knowledge of Jahi’s medical records, the fact that her ventilator is functioning means that the girl is still alive:
“The ventilator won’t work on a corpse. In a corpse, the ventilator pushes the air in, but it won’t come out. Just the living person pushes the air out.”
3. She Can Legally Be Removed From Life Support Tonight
On December 21st, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo granted the McMath family a temporary restraining order to prevent the hospital from disconnecting Jahi from a ventilator, until an independent neurologist could examine her brain for any sign of activity. After hearing the testimony of two independent physicians, both of whom believed Jahi to be irrevocably brain dead, Grillo sided with the hospital on December 24th. The judge gave McMath’s family until 5pm today to file an appeal.
4. The Family Has Raised $22,000 to Keep Jahi on Life Support
The family has been campaigning to keep Jahi on life support, through a Facebook page, and fundraising website. They have collected $22, 000 in donations aimed at financing Jahi’s transfer to a hospital willing to keep Jahi on life support, should one be found.
5. The Hospital Insists They Are Sympathetic, But Jahi Cannot Be Saved
The hospital’s attorney Douglas Straus, says Children’s Hospital has “an extreme amount of sympathy for the family of Jahi McMath, and we’re empathetic to their reluctance to get closure here and the difficulty that everybody is having in coming to grips with a tragic situation.”
Arthur L. Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, told CBS News:
“Brain death is death. They don’t need permission from the family to take her off, but because the little girl died unexpectedly and so tragically, they’re trying to soften the blow and let the family adjust to the reality.”
He distinguishes the condition of brain-death, from a coma or permanent vegetative through a televisual metaphor:
“A coma is like a television that has a picture with a lot of interference. There’s brain activity, but something’s not right. A permanent vegetative state is when the screen is all snow. Brain death is when the set is unplugged. There is nothing on the screen.”
Caplan also noted that keeping Jahi on a ventilator would likely cost thousands of dollars a day, none of which would be covered by insurance if the girl is legally brain-dead.
The full text of the hospital’s legal argument can be viewed below: