OAKLAND, CA, January 3, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The family of Jahi McMath, a 13-year-old girl who suffered severe brain damage after a routine tonsillectomy and was declared “legally dead” under California state law last month, will be permitted to remove the girl from Children’s Hospital of Oakland and take her elsewhere for treatment, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Jahi’s family had been begging the hospital to perform a tracheostomy on the teen, which would allow her safe transfer to a facility outside the state. They also wanted the hospital to provide a feeding tube to prevent Jahi from starving to death. The hospital refused, citing its unwillingness to perform medical procedures on a “deceased” patient.
Under the terms of the settlement announced today in Alameda County Superior Court, the hospital will not be forced to assist Jahi medically, but will allow an outside critical care team to enter the facility and transport the girl to a safer location. Those doctors, however, will not be permitted to perform any surgical procedures (such as a tracheostomy or insertion of a feeding tube) on hospital grounds.
Jahi was declared “dead” by the Alameda County Coroner on December 12, three days after she underwent a procedure at Children’s Hospital to remove her tonsils in order to treat sleep apnea. The procedure seemed to go well initially, but sometime during her recovery, she suffered cardiac arrest and was declared “brain dead,” which is the legal criterion for death in California.
Jahi is currently on a ventilator, but her heart is beating on its own and both her family and an independent doctor have said she is physically responding to family members with small movements.
Still, California law allows medical professionals to remove life support if a patient has been declared brain dead, and Children’s Hospital has been fighting to do just that, going so far as to get the coroner to issue a death certificate and a judge to declare her “legally dead.”
“Personally, it's horrible that this child has died,” hospital attorney Douglas Straus told reporters outside the court Friday. “It's also horrible that it's so difficult for her family to accept it. And I constantly think that wouldn't it be great if they were able to come to terms with it.”
The settlement agreement states that Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, is “wholly and exclusively responsible for Jahi McMath the moment custody is transferred in the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit and acknowledge(s) that she understands that the transfer and subsequent transport could pact the condition of the body, including causing cardiac arrest.”
McMath family attorney Chris Dolan said that the settlement clears the way for Jahi to be moved to a facility where she can begin treatment for her brain injuries.
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“Right now, arrangements are being made, and what we needed to know was that when all the balls were in line, that we could move quickly, and not to have impediments, so that we all understood what the protocol was,” Dolan told reporters outside the court Friday. “So, this is a victory in terms of getting us one step closer.”
Jahi’s case has become a rallying point for pro-life activists including Bobby Schindler, whose sister Terri Schiavo was at the center of a similar legal battle back in 2004. Schindler now runs “Terri’s Network,” a charity devoted to protecting the severely disabled from being denied life-extending care.
“Jahi McMath has been labeled a ‘deceased’ person according to Children's Hospital Oakland,” Schindler’s group wrote this week. “Yet she retains all the functional attributes of a living person, despite her brain injury. This includes a beating heart, circulation and respiration, the ability to metabolize nutrition, and more. Jahi is a living human being.”
Both Terri’s Network and Jahi’s family and supporters have argued that California’s current definition of death allows doctors to deny severely disabled patients life-saving care in order to harvest their healthy organs.
“Brain death was invented, conjured, made-up to get organ transplants,” said Dr. Paul Byrne, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Toledo, who has visited Jahi personally in the hospital. “If doctors can, they will take this young girl’s organs,” the doctor told LifeSiteNews.com.
Byrne has examined Jahi personally and says that it should be “obvious to everyone” that she is still alive.
“Her heart is beating, she has circulation, she has respiration, her immune mechanisms are intact, and I’m sure she is healing from her tonsillectomy. Healing happens in only a living person,” Byrne told LifeSiteNews. “These are facts of life, that this girl is a living person and that she’s not dead.”