Jahi McMath: Parents Right to Not Give Up

Jahi McMath

As the Jahi McMath case has unfolded, I have watched how her parents have not been able to give up on her, feeling a mixture of empathy and frustration.  I have empathized with the pain that they must feeling as they grieve over the tragic, senseless loss of their beautiful daughter; but I  have also felt frustration with the medical professionals who seemingly have allowed them to continue in the fantasy that she will somehow undergo a miraculous recovery.  Why is no one taking them aside and telling them bluntly that they must give up?  Surely it would be kinder than allowing them to have false hope?  These have been my feelings until this morning.  Then, something changed that allowed me to see the case through their eyes:  I learned about the case of Steven Thorpe.

Steven Thorpe was a seventeen-year-old boy who suffered from horrific trauma in a car crash.  After the accident, he was placed in a medically-induce coma.  However, his doctors told the young man’s family that he would never recover because he had no brain activity and was considered to be brain dead, just like Jahi McMath.  His doctors suggested that the family should put some thought towards donating his organs and then turning off the life-support machine that was keeping his body alive.

But Steven’s parents weren’t convinced.  His father believed that he was still there and he wanted to get a second opinion.  He asked a private GP named Julia Piper to do one more check on his son, who was a patient at University Hospital in Coventry, West Midlands, in England.  Because of his father’s persistence, the hospital allowed a neurologist to check him one more time and the result was miraculous.  The doctor was able to detect faint brain waves that had not been detected before.  Steven had a chance at recovery, no matter how slim it might have been, so the decision was made to attempt to bring him out of his coma.

Just five short weeks later, he was discharged from the hospital having made a nearly-complete recovery.

So, does this mean that Jahi McMath will recover?  No.  Her body has deteriorated significantly since the 13-year-old was declared brain dead on December 12.  Because of the controversy surrounding her case she has no doubt been checked for any signs of brain activity multiple times.  It is certain that it only a matter of time before even the extreme measures that are currently being used to give her lifeless body the appearance of living will not be able to overcome the derangement that exists in a body with no brain activity available to regulate it.

However, even though she is well and truly dead at this point, this doesn’t mean that Jahi’s parents were wrong to try to exhaust every possible means of giving her a chance.  Why?  Because the case of Steven Thorpe illustrates a couple of very important points.  One is the fact that doctors are not gods.  Mistakes in judgement are made.  It was only right to make very certain that a correct diagnosis was made.  A little girl’s life was hanging in the balance.  And, two, no one is going to advocate for a patient more strongly than the people who know and love them well.  That should not be ignored or dismissed because sometimes those intuitions are correct, like they were in the case of Steven.

No, I would argue that the parents of  Jahi McMath did exactly the right thing in not giving up.  It may have been a futile effort, but it was not the wrong choice.  We should never become so cynical that we cannot hold out hope for a miracle.

Editorial by Nancy Schimelpfening


LA Times

LA Times

The Telegraph

25 Responses to "Jahi McMath: Parents Right to Not Give Up"

  1. mn   February 27, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Brain death is actually, a coma, not true death, that is why people do come out of it. Jahi is a young 13 year old girl in a coma, now that she is being feed and given medical treatment, she has a chance of recovering.

  2. cecelia   January 30, 2014 at 6:50 am

    January 27, 2014 at 7:02 pm Have you seen the video that came out today?


    It’s a video that was taken at CHO BEFORE the parents went to court. her foot moving was their basis for saying she’s alive. taken down of their site but it did create the desired effect of MO money, just as they intended. jmho

  3. Besmudged   January 27, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Have you seen the video that came out today?

  4. Ramblin2   January 20, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Nancy Schimelpfening, author of this article. You might be informed that now, two doctors must agree that a person is brain dead before it can be deemed so. That wasn’t the case with Stephen Thorpe, who happened to be in England. I’m sure they have different protocols there than they do in California. Might I suggest doing further research? No need to mislead anyone. Thanks.

  5. Gordon Paul   January 17, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    After several doctors tested Jahi and determined she was brain dead, it was time for the family to let go. The hospital bent over backwards to accommodate the family, yet they held on to a belief/blind faith that Jahi would recover, but she will never recover because she is brain dead. The family and lawyer should be ashamed for the way they behaved, especially when there are reports Jahi’s demise was caused in part by the family’s refusal to follow post-op instructions. Jahi should have been buried a month ago, so her family could begin grieving and recovering from their tragic loss.

  6. avalonfox   January 16, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    They are asking our Lord for a miracle…and I believe our Lord already answered them.

    • Abby9'sem!   January 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Sometimes the answer is , “No”.

  7. shara   January 15, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    The Steven Thorpe case was a misdiagnosis…brain dead means DEAD. It’s not the same as a coma or being a vegetable. If your head were chopped off, you can’t recover. That’s what brain death is. The only reason Jahi’s heart is beating is because of a machine.

  8. rob shragge   January 15, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    The family killed her. rot in hell you poor excuses for parents

  9. Maggie maines   January 15, 2014 at 11:37 am


    Just read this. That’s all…just read it.

  10. dixielawrence   January 15, 2014 at 8:40 am

    If she were my child, I do not know what decision I would make, but whatever that decision, I would want it to be MINE.

  11. sigh   January 15, 2014 at 12:31 am

    They should be charged with manslaughter for over feeding her, and for desecration of the dead for what they’ve done the last month. Poor child.

  12. Peace for Jahi's family!   January 14, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    Ah even the doctors said in the Thorpe case that he was in a COMA and “would LIKELY not recover”. In Jahi’s case, there was no doubt even from the beginning and that quick diagnosis, I suspect is the problem, at least from the family’s perspective.

    I was watching a youtube video of some news outlet interviewing Jahi’s mom and uncle, where the mom described “other people who doctors said were in a coma and they woke up. So I’m not understanding what is so different about my family.” Apologies, that is NOT a direct quote! But you get the gist. First Jahi’s mom didn’t understand the difference between a coma and brain death; and then Jahi’s mom probably suspected bias of some sort on the part of the nurses and doctors due to the fast diagnosis.

    She felt like the doctors just took one look at Jahi and on the spur of the moment they decided that Jahi was brain dead.

    The thing is though, that some cases do take longer to make an accurate diagnosis but in Jahi’s case there wasn’t any doubt in the doctor’s minds, which is why they appeared to “quickly” make the diagnosis. And a month on a ventilator with no signs of brain activity have confirmed that. It really is time to let Jahi go.

    Btw. I have a great deal of sympathy for Jahi’s mom, she looked so incredibly destroyed in that interview. I think it was only later that the uncle started seeing dollar signs, maybe. Or maybe he just wanted to get the money that they needed to care for Jahi.

    I wish I could give them a big hug and make this all go away for them, and bring Jahi back.

  13. Stephanie Grow   January 14, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    They want us to believe they can be so right after they were just so wrong. And they want us to believe this, in spite of the fact that a community is watching, a nation is watching, watching a 1 in 25,000 chance of death from routine surgery. Or did they really just want this patient to die, to be a one time MICRA payment, even at the cost of their public image? After all, they could’ve just given Jahi Mcmath nutrition for the month she was at the hospital, could’ve supported the family wanting their child on life support, thereby saving their image, THAT IS IF they were so sure she was brain dead. Because if she was brain dead, and receiving nutrition and life support for a month, then she should STILL BE brain dead after that month right?. Unless they were afraid that giving her nutrition for that crucial month, she might recover, might breath again without a ventilator.

    Because she wasn’t brain dead, was she? She was brain damaged. They NEEDED her to be brain dead.

    • ViperRum   January 15, 2014 at 7:54 pm

      Today tonsillectomies are NOT routine. They were routine about 35 years ago, but not anymore. And and operation to remove the tonsils, adenoids, and uvula were never routine.

    • Nicola   January 15, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      Unfortunately, you get really bad things happening when you provide nutrition to a brain-dead body. The brain controls digestion as well as the ability of stomach and intestines to move nutrition through. Therefore, it’s going to stay in the stomach or intestines (if that’s where it’s shunted to) and will become fetid material. People need to learn a whole lot more, it seems, about how the brain and body work together.

    • Ramblin2   January 20, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      Stephanie, Jahi’s surgery was not routine. She had more than just a tonsillectomy, she had other procedure done to remove her uvula, adenoids and extra tissue. She also had other medical problems than the sleep apnea but it hasn’t been reported what those issues were.

      Children’s Hospital was under no legal obligation to provide more medical procedures on Jahi. At least six independent physicians all arrived at the same conclusion that Jahi was brain dead. Could they all be wrong? A renowned hospital like CHO would not risk their reputation and credibility at making any public statements about this case if they weren’t sure she was dead. Again, SIX independent physicians all agree Jahi met the criteria of being brain dead, no activity or blood flow to the brain or brain stem.

      With no brain/brain stem activity, how would the stomach know to digest and process the nutrition she is given?

  14. Jas   January 14, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    Jahis mother put up a fight against both God and Death.i can understand her need to do so, but at what price to the memory of her daughter?

  15. DocBastard   January 14, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    This is a decidedly disingenuous commentary. In the entirety of human history, exactly zero people have recovered from brain death, because it is actually physically impossible. Every single case you read about (including Zack Dunlap and Steven Thorpe) involve misdiagnosis. How do I know? Because that’s the only possible explanation. Brains have no capacity to heal, so “recovering” from brain death is impossible.

    I agree that the parents should have sought a second opinion, but once brain death was confirmed and no change was detected after several days, the machines should have been turned off.

  16. ViperRum   January 14, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Using the case of Steven Thorpe is incredibly dishonest. It is almost surely the case that the initial diagnosis was mistaken. Maybe some of the equipment was faulty, maybe the doctor(s) initially mis-read what was being reported. Lets put this into terms of probabilities regarding the Thorpe case:

    Prob(Medical Error).

    The author of this tripe wants us to believe that the the first event occurred and ignore the possibility of the second event even though logic tells us the latter event is almost surely several orders of magnitude larger than the first.

    Further, based on what limited information I found on the internet (i.e. it is sketchy information at best) the hospital where Thorpe was being treated released statements saying CT scans showed no brain activity, that is but one criteria. This leads me to think that like the case of Zack Dunlap, Thorpe was incorrectly diagnosed. Further, these earlier reports (i.e. prior to the McMath case) indicated that Thorpe was put into a medically induced coma. If medications were used, then you CANNOT test for things like brain death as certain medications can suppress brain activity.

    Really, learn to read and do some research before spewing this kind of errant nonsense.

  17. Nancy Benedict   January 14, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Her parents should certainly have the right to a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And a fifth. And a sixth. And they did. No one found any sign of any neurological activity and, more importantly, they all determined that there was no blood flow to the brain. These opinions were spaced out over weeks, not days. What was litigated here was not the right to more opinions over more time. It was the right to keep her on a ventilator *even if the neurological diagnosis was correct*

    No one has come forth since she left the hospital to say that any sign of neurological activity or blood flow has been detected. If I cut off oxygen from your brain for one month, how much longer is it reasonable to wait to see if you’re really dead? There have been many *many* cases where cardiac death was incorrectly diagnosed. The doctor said there was no cardiac activity and the heart was irreversably stopped and later the person sat up in the morgue or in their coffin. Do we deduce from this that when a person’s heart stops, the family has the right to demand that the body be kept on ice for months and years just in case the diagnosis was wrong and maybe their heart is really going to start up again?? Sure…get a second opinion. Get a third opinion. Demand a period of time before another examination. But that is not what is going on here — what is going on here is that this family is saying “there is no such thing as irreversable neurological cessation of activity.” They have already indicated that what they are looking for is a “miracle.” I believe in miracle. But to say that a dead body must be kept from deterioriting for as long as possible in order to give God as much time as necessary to perform a miracle is simply insanity.

    • martqbd   January 14, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      Amen, The body which held this young girl started the natural process of breaking itself down. I truly felt sorry for this family at first. I now believe the system is being played.
      Thanks to the legal system of Califorina. A judge who agrees she meets the criteria for dead legal and medical. Then orders her to stay on artificial devices. What this could mean in the long term for health i can not imagine.

    • ViperRum   January 14, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      Nobody has come forth and nobody will….because Jahi McMath is dead. At this point here brain, including the brain stem, have likely liquified. There is nothing that can be done here. Yet medical resources are still be used on a corpse. Resources that could be used on the living. THAT is extremely unethical and wrong.

      • Rita12   January 18, 2014 at 10:53 am

        Looked at their gofundme site a few minutes ago…people are still donating.

    • Julie   January 15, 2014 at 6:02 pm

      Excellent comment. Probably the best I’ve read.


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