Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old brain dead California girl that has been at the center of an extensive legal battle and a nationwide ethics debate was released from Children’s Hospital Oakland to the coroner and then to the care of her mother last night. She has reportedly since been transferred to an undisclosed long-term care facility. Her precise location remains a secret, due in part to threats allegedly made against the family and their attorney. There is speculation, however, that she is still in the state of California.
The family’s attorney, Christopher Dolan, made a statement via Twitter on Sunday night, saying that “she is safely out of Children’s.” In a public statement made today, he reports that the brain-dead McMath “wasted away” during her stay at Children’s Hospital due to what he calls “poor nutrition” and the fact that she was already very sick. He says that McMath is now safe but in “bad shape.” He also reported that McMath was being evaluated and stabilized and indicated that additional surgery may be a consideration.
Dolan has previously said that the family believes that McMath could recover with proper care and enough rest, despite being assured otherwise by at least three medical professionals who performed physical examinations on the girl. They say that she has suffered “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.” Numerous other medical experts have weighed in on the case to agree that a patient in her condition has no hope of recovery.
McMath’s uncle stated that they have been welcomed to the new facility with open arms and that they are happy to be somewhere where McMath will be treated in accordance with their beliefs about her status as a living child. He has also reportedly said that the family has not ruled out the possibility of a lawsuit to address the notion that Children’s Hospital violated their rights to make decisions regarding the teen’s care.
McMath was pronounced brain-dead at Oakland Children’s Hospital on Dec. 12, due to complications resulting from a tonsillectomy performed at the hospital. The hospital desired to have McMath removed from life support, but her family, believing that the fact that her heart is still beating means she is alive, has been waging a fierce legal battle to keep her attached to the ventilator that they believe is sustaining her life.
McMath’s family struggled to find a facility that would accept the brain-dead girl. The pressure was on to find a suitable location quickly as a court order preventing Children’s Hospital from removing her ventilator and IV tubes is set to expire at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The hearing scheduled to review her status at that time may be canceled in light of the fact that she has already been transferred to another facility.
Experts and laypeople around the nation have been weighing in on the family’s fight on both sides, the debate ultimately centering on the question of just when exactly death occurs. While many agree with McMath’s family that they should have the choice as to whether McMath’s life support is terminated, the general consensus in the medical community is that “total brain death constitutes death” even when accompanied by a continuing heart beat. The same definition is used in the 1981 Uniform Declaration of Death Act, a law adopted in many states, including California.
By Michele Wessel