13-Year-Old Declared Brain Dead, Showing Signs Of Life
A judge ordered on December 24th, 2013 that 13-year-old Jahi McMath, a Northern California girl declared brain dead after suffering complications following a tonsillectomy, be taken off life support.
**UPDATED INFORMATION**: Jahi’s condition has changed since this article was originally published. Please see the updated statement from the family at the end of this article.
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Grillo issued the order after a Stanford doctor testified that Jahi is brain dead. Dr. Paul Graham Fisher’s evaluation was the second to reach that conclusion.
Children’s Hospital of Oakland, where Jahi was hospitalized, has asked that the girl be taken off life support after doctors there also concluded she was brain dead.
However, Jahi’s family has said it believes she is still alive and that the hospital should not remove her from the ventilator without its permission.
Hospital lawyers disagree.
“Because Ms. McMath is dead, practically and legally, there is no course of medical treatment to continue or discontinue; there is nothing to which the family’s consent is applicable,” the hospital said in a court filing on Tuesday.
Jahi’s family says the girl bled profusely after a tonsillectomy and then went into cardiac arrest before being declared brain dead. Despite the family’s description of the surgery as routine, the hospital said in a memorandum presented to the court Friday that the procedure was a “complicated” one.
The judge on Monday had called for Jahi to be independently examined by Fisher, the chief of child neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine.
On Dec. 12, doctors concluded the girl was brain dead and since then have wanted to remove her from life support. Jahi’s family wants to keep her hooked up to a respirator and eventually have her moved to another facility.
“They failed her,” said Sandra Chatman, Jahi’s grandmother and a registered nurse, who sat in Grillo’s courtroom for more than three hours Tuesday during the closed door testimony. “Jahi could have been saved.”
“Miracles happen,” Chatman added.
The family’s attorney, Christopher Dolan, said he would file an emergency appeal to keep Jahi on life support if the trial judge orders her removal from the ventilator.
Dolan also wants a third evaluation done by Dr. Paul Byrne, a pediatric professor at the University of Toledo. The hospital’s attorney objected to Byrne, saying he is not a pediatric neurologist.
Arthur L. Caplan, who leads the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and is not involved in Jahi’s case, told The Associated Press that once brain death has been declared, a hospital is under no obligation to keep a patient on a ventilator.
“Brain death is death,” he said, adding, “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.”
Family members won a court order to keep her on a ventilator, and eventually got permission to transfer her to an undisclosed care facility, despite broad consensus among medical experts that her body will continue to deteriorate.
**UPDATE**: In an interview with The Chronicle on March 15, 2014, at the office of the family’s attorney, Jahi’s uncle Omari Sealy, 27, said that while his niece remains unconscious, she looks healthy and moves her head, legs and arms regularly. Showing such signs of life, he said, the family is not going to give up on her.
She even turns in the direction of visitors when they enter her hospital room, an indication that she understands her surroundings, Sealy said.
“She moves so much, she can turn on her side,” he said. “They have to keep her bed rails up. They’re afraid she could fall out of bed.”