The family of 13-year-old Jahi McMath is fighting to challenge a California court decision ruling her deceased due to brain death. The family’s attorney, Christopher Dolan, has recently stated that McMath is showing signs that she has regained consciousness.
It’s been almost 10 months since the Oakland teenager was pronounced legally brain dead following a surgery at Children’s Hospital Oakland. Ensuing the surgery, which was aimed at improving the teen’s sleep apnea, McMath was awake and talking, according to her mother.
After being transferred to the ICU, McMath experienced severe blood loss and went into cardiac arrest. For an indeterminable amount of time, blood circulation to her brain ceased, and McMath showed no signs of electrical activity in her brain. An Alameda County coroner pronounced her legally dead on December 20, 2013. Doctors informed her family that, as a result, she would be taken off of life support.
McMath’s family challenged the final ruling made by Alameda County Superior Court’s Judge Grillo that McMath had suffered brain death, insisting that since her heart was still beating, she was still alive. Children’s Hospital Oakland rebutted that providing healthcare to a dead body was “unethical and grotesque”. The family’s petition to the District Court for the Northern District of California to require hospital staff to insert a feeding tube were denied, however, a court-ordered agreement was reached in which McMath’s mother could take custody of her, allowing her to be released from the hospital with her ventilator and IV lines.
Since McMath’s release in January, media reports have indicated that she is on life support in a New Jersey hospital, most likely due to the fact that New Jersey state law allows religious objection to a diagnosis of brain death. The McMath family’s attorney, Christopher Dolan, would not disclose how the family is funding her hospital stay, but stated that the family wants to bring her back to California to receive healthcare at home. Until her death certificate is voided, McMath faces the threat of having the plug pulled should she ever need hospital care.
On September 30,2014, Dolan stated that various undisclosed medical professionals have performed a multitude of tests on McMath, confirming the presence of electrical activity in her brain. In a news conference on October 2, Dolan showed videos of McMath’s mother urging her to move, after which she momentarily lifted her hands and jerked her feet. Experts have countered with the fact that victims of brain death can still demonstrate reflexes, and that recovery of brain activity would be miraculous. McMath would be the first individual ever to regain consciousness after suffering from brain death.
Jahi McMath’s family, who are challenged by criticism from outsiders who believe they are in denial, are awaiting court ruling whether Jahi’s brain death declaration will be reversed. If McMath is declared alive, Children’s Hospital Oakland could be responsible for her healthcare costs. The outcome of the case may also affect determination of death laws in California, and is stirring debate about the court’s authority to rule in matters of life and death.
By Alexandrea Weeks