Jahi McMath of Oakland, Calif., was declared brain-dead last month after experiencing an extremely rare complication from tonsil surgery. Jahi’s family members have fought to keep their daughter on a ventilator.
A person is considered brain-dead when he or she no longer has any neurological activity in the brain or brain stem — meaning no electrical impulses are being sent between brain cells. Doctors perform a number of tests to determine whether someone is brain-dead, one of which checks whether the individual can initiate his or her own breath, a very primitive reflex carried out by the brain stem, said Dr. Diana Greene-Chandos, an assistant professor of neurological surgery and neurology at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “It’s the last thing to go,” Greene-Chandos said.
In the United States and many other countries, a person is legally dead if he or she permanently loses all brain activity (brain death) or all breathing and circulatory functions. In Jahi’s case, three doctors have concluded that she is brain-dead.
Pulido, therefore, allowed a malpractice suit against the hospital to go ahead. The case—which was filed by the teen’s family—is aiming to compel the hospital to take care for the teen, including paying for the hospital bills.
Alameda County Judge ruled that it’s up to the jury to determine if Jahi McMath is alive. The damages will increase if the jurors find out that the docs at Children’s Hospital in Oakland made a mistake during the operation to remove the Jahi’s tonsils.
Jahi’s case has arisen national debate over brain deaths since her mother refused to remove her from life support even after docs declared the then-13-year-old girl dead after surgery in Dec. 2013.
Doctors claim Jahi had irreversible brain damage caused by lack of oxygen and cardiac arrest. A coroner, therefore, signed a death certificate the next month.
Today, Jahi is connected to a ventilator and is treated in New Jersey—the only American state that accommodates religions which don’t recognize brain deaths.
“It’s a matter of life and death,” says Chris Dolan—attorney representing the family in the suit—who are seeking court ruling to permit the family to move Jahi back to California, where the doctors would be compelled by law to care for her.
Dolan argues that some technological advances like brain scans have made erroneous traditional tests yet doctors still rely on them to diagnose brain death.
New Jersey’s Medicaid program has paid for some of the Jahi’s health costs. The family has also received financial donations from online fundraising campaigns.
McMath’s family and Bruce Brusavich, the family’s malpractice attorney, have indicated that they are prepared to argue that McMath is not brain dead so that the California state limit of $250,000 on medical malpractice lawsuits involving children who die does not apply in her case.
As of July of 2017 the two sides have entrenched themselves even further into their respective findings
In making his decision, Judge Pulido relied highly on the testimony of a famous critic of the way professionals diagnose brain death—Dr. Alan Shewmon.
Dr. Alan Shewmon, the retired neurologist, stated that videos recorded by Jahi’s family 2014-2016 showed the girl was still alive.
There were photos publicized by the girl’s relatives, also show Jahi stretching her fingers and even reacting to odors that were noxious.
However, several doctors—including two hired by a California-based court—have said that brain-dead patients can still move and stretch slightly.
After viewing over four dozen independent videos of the girl, Dr. Alan Shewmon, a renowned UCLA pediatric neurologist, declared the girl alive in a June 29, 2017 court filing, affirming that the girl follows movement commands and exhibits other proof of life. However, Melinda Krigel, spokeswoman for the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, affirms equally strongly that the diagnosis of the award-winning pediatric neurologists remains correct.
Shewmon said that Jahi’s body hasn’t deteriorated as expected.
A doctor who usually examines the girl after every 3-months has testified that Jahi has even reached puberty. However, Shewmon admitted that Jahi’s in a “minimally responsive condition.”
This issue raises the question of country debate on children health. Today there could be many Jahi who were not strong to fight back. But the McMath family might pave a way towards the change.