Kirsten Andersen

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Terri Schiavo’s family joins fight to prevent starvation of teen declared ‘legally dead’ by hospital

Kirsten Andersen

OAKLAND, Calif., January 2, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Terri Schiavo’s family has thrown their weight behind an Oakland family’s effort to save their daughter’s life from doctor-ordered starvation after a routine tonsillectomy left her brain-damaged and unable to breathe on her own.

Jahi McMath, 13, was declared “brain dead” by doctors at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital on December 12, after a Dec. 9 procedure went horribly wrong and she suffered cardiac arrest in the recovery room.  Since then, the hospital has been fighting to remove the eighth-grader from all life support, even going so far as to persuade a judge to declare her “legally dead” in the eyes of the state of California, where the law defines death as an absence of brain activity.

Jahi’s family has fought back, hiring an attorney, Christopher Dolan, and issuing a cease-and-desist order to the hospital while they try to find a different facility to treat her.  Together, the family and their attorney succeeded in securing a restraining order against the hospital, which was originally set to expire last Monday but has now been extended until January 7.

“I want her on [the ventilator] as long as possible, because I really believe that God will wake her up,” her mother, Nailah Winkfield said. She also said she wants the hospital to provide a feeding tube to keep Jahi nourished as her body tries to heal. 

“To watch my daughter just sit there and not have food ... I'm just so happy that she is kind of a thick girl so she still looks good,” Winkfield told ABC’s ‘Good Morning America.’ “I tell her every day, ‘Jahi, you losin’ weight girl, but you still look good.’ I just think it's inhumane to not feed my child, to not refer to her by her name, and stop us in our tracks.”

Family attorney Chris Dolan told CBS News, “Our position is, ‘You don't want her, that's clear.’ ... We are trying to find somebody who will see her other than a dead piece of meat and will treat her, help us get her out of there and into the arms of someone who will care for her rather than putting her in a body bag.”

But Children’s Hospital has so far refused to help, either by providing a feeding tube or promising to keep her ventilated until she can be safely transitioned to a new care facility. 

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“Performing medical procedures on the body of a deceased human being is simply not something Children's Hospital can do or ask its staff to assist in doing,” said hospital attorney Douglas Straus.

Now, with only days left before the hospital will be legally able to cut off Jahi’s life support, the family of Terri Schiavo has stepped in, using their charitable foundation to coordinate a last-ditch effort to save Jahi from meeting Terri’s fate. Schiavo was brain-damaged Florida woman who was dehydrated and starved to death in 2005 by her caregivers after her cheating husband fought to have her feeding tube and IV fluids removed.

The Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network (Terri’s Network) released a statement Tuesday announcing they are working to get Jahi released from Children’s Hospital and safely transferred to a facility that will give her the care she needs to survive.

“Jahi McMath has been labeled a ‘deceased’ person according to Children's Hospital Oakland,” wrote the group.  “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.”

Terri’s Network said they believe the teen’s situation is “representative of a very deep problem within the U.S. healthcare system – particularly those issues surrounding the deaths of patients within the confines of hospital corporations, which have a vested financial interest in discontinuing life.”

Both Terri’s Network and Jahi’s family and supporters argue that California’s current definition of death allows doctors to put living patients to death in order to harvest their healthy organs.

According to Dr. Paul Byrne, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Toledo who has personally examined Jahi, people do not “become dead” because doctors declare them ‘brain dead,’  “although they intend it that way.”  Byrne previously told LifeSiteNews the reason doctors have fought so hard to establish ‘brain death’ as the criterion for legal death is that dead organs cannot be transplanted into living bodies.  Transplant organs must be harvested from the living, he said.  Legally defining death as a lack of significant brain activity allows surgeons to harvest viable vital organs before true death renders them unusable.

“Brain death was invented, conjured, made-up to get organ transplants,” Byrne said. “If doctors can, they will take this young girl’s organs.”

According to Byrne, only New York and New Jersey have conscience clauses that protect patients who have been declared brain dead from being taken off life support against the will of their legal guardians. “In the other 48 states, there is nothing in their laws to give any kind of protection to the person declared brain dead,” Byrne told LSN.  “All of the laws — and I mean all of them — all revolve around getting organs.”

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 LSN. “These are facts of life, that this girl is a living person and that she’s not dead.” 

Byrne explained that the ventilator helping Jahi to breathe is only pushing air into her lungs.  Her own body is doing the work of circulating the oxygen and pushing the air back out.  He said he even saw the girl physically respond to her grandmother’s voice and touch with a squirming movements, which he said “signifies she is not dead.” 

But a Children’s Hospital spokesman insisted the doctor simply misinterpreted the girl’s movements. He described Jahi’s response to her grandmother as an involuntary muscle reflex called the “Lazarus effect,” after the dead man who the Gospels say was brought back to life by Christ.

Jahi’s family has started a GoFundMe page to take donations to help defray the cost of keeping their daughter on life support against the hospital’s will. 

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