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This girl was declared ‘clinically dead,’ but now her parents want the death certificate revoked so they can bring her home

Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten
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The family of Jahi McMath, a 13-year-old girl declared legally “dead” by officials at Oakland Children’s Hospital and Alameda County, California, are petitioning to have her death certificate revoked because she is alive and improving at a New Jersey hospital.

McMath was declared “brain dead” ten months ago and a death certificate issued by the coroner’s office after she suffered cardiac arrest due to complications from a tonsillectomy.  Doctors at Oakland Children’s Hospital insisted the girl was clinically dead and wanted to remove her from life support, but her family and an outside doctor who examined her said she was responsive to touch and speech by family members.

After the coroner issued the death certificate, McMath’s family went to court and obtained a restraining order preventing the hospital from taking her off the ventilator that was helping her breathe.  However, the hospital refused to give her a feeding tube or IV fluids, arguing that performing medical procedures on a “deceased” patient would violate their ethical guidelines. 

The family then successfully fought to have the girl released from Oakland Children’s Hospital, although they had to sign paperwork agreeing that they were fully responsible for whatever happened after her removal from life support.   They transferred her to a Catholic medical facility in New Jersey, where she has been receiving treatment for the last nine months.

Family attorney Chris Dolan told the San Francisco Chronicle that he has “medical experts, including world-class experts on brain death, who will testify she is not brain dead.”

Dolan says McMath’s family wants her declared legally alive so that she can return to California, where the family is based, for further treatment, “and not have somebody pull the ventilator on her if she is in the hospital.”

Some have accused the family of wanting the death certificate reversed so that McMath will be eligible for state-funded care, as all of her medical expenses are currently being privately funded.  But while Dolan concedes that should the judge order her death certificate revoked, “she would be eligible for the same state benefits as every other person not brain-dead on a ventilator, and who gets full medical care,” he says it’s definitely not about the money – her family just wants her to be able to come home without fear that doctors will refuse to treat her.

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