Brain Dead Is Dead-Jahi McMath Family and Unethical Actions

Brain Dead

Someone who is brain dead is dead. This is true in all 50 states in the U.S. and in the District of Columbia. Therefore, Jahi McMath, the little girl who suffered irreversible complications stemming from a tonsillectomy, is legally and for all practical purposes-dead. Doctors who are treated the girl also state that she is dead and are now fighting with her family and their highly unethical actions in trying to keep McMath tethered to machines which will artificially pump blood through her body and keep her heart beating. McMath’s family is embroiled in a legal fight with the California hospital where her body lies.

According to legal website USlegal, someone who has experienced “whole brain death” is dead. The website explains:

All fifty states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA). The UDDA also recognizes whole-brain death — irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain — as a legal standard of death. A person can be legally dead even if her cardiopulmonary system continues to function. If a patient’s entire brain is nonfunctioning, so that breathing and heartbeat are maintained only by artificial means, that patient meets the whole-brain standard of death.

Members of McMath’s family refuse to accept her death and are currently seeking doctors to perform operations on the child’s corpse in order to have it transferred to a different facility. The doctors who treated McMath have stated that is unethical for them to do surgery on a deceased person. The family says that because of their religion, they believe that McMath is still alive; however, doctors say there is absolutely no scientific basis for this belief. Unfortunately, believing something does not make it so.

Leaving a brain-dead person hooked up to machines is unethical, and robs the person of the dignity he or she deserves. A similar situation happened in the Nelson Mandela case. Mandela was declared brain dead with total organ failure in June of 2013, yet his family insisted on keeping him hooked up to machines that kept his heart beating and his lungs breathing. To put an icon like Mandela through such an undignified and prolonged death was unconscionable.

Now, Terry Schiavo’s family has inserted themselves into the mix by calling for McMath’s staying on the machines. Terry Schiavo was a 26 year old woman who was in a permanent vegetative state after collapsing at her home. Her husband had to engage in a bitter legal battle against her family to win the right to take Schiavo off of a feeding tube.

Although many have compassion for the Jahi McMath family, it doesn’t change the fact that when a person is brain dead it means he or she is dead, period. While it is understandable that it’s hard to accept such a tragedy, especially one stemming from what is usually a minor surgery; the family’s unethical actions in prolonging the legal battle are not understandable.

Jahi McMath deserves better, and her family must accept her death and move forward. Religious beliefs are not a reason to deny McMath a proper goodbye and a peaceful transition of her body to either burial or cremation. Prolonging this case is totally unethical and does a great disservice to an innocent girl who was taken too soon but who nonetheless deserves to rest in peace.

An Editorial By: Rebecca Savastio

US Legal

Mercury News

NBC Bay Area


11 Responses to "Brain Dead Is Dead-Jahi McMath Family and Unethical Actions"

  1. J.Danek   January 5, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    my god what a travesty that the family is doing this! how terrible! one can only hope that some good samaritan in the medical community who will be involved in transporting the girl ‘s corpse like it’s part of a circus freak show will “accidentally” turn off the life support and allow her body to shut-down like her brain has. the only reason the parents are doing this is b/c they want continued media attention (though i cannot imagine why you’d want to share the agony of losing a child w/ the world, pimping out her dead body gah!).

    • ben   January 6, 2014 at 3:00 am

      Your use of god with lower case is quite appropriate.

  2. Amy   January 2, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Job, brain death is not determined alone by an EEG. That is incorrect. There is a lot of criteria involved to make the brain death determination.

  3. Janna   January 2, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Job, the family has already had a second opinion. In fact, multiple doctors have declared Jahi brain dead. The child is deceased and deserves much more than this circus her family has created, simply because they refuse to accept reality. The reality is brain death is legally dead. I feel sorry for the other patients at the hospital, and I certainly hope no children have been turned away, due to a lack of ICU beds.

  4. Lia   January 2, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Re: Job

    They’ve had a second and third opinion. Two doctors at the hospital and a third, court-appointed pediatric neurologist from Stanford University. All agree she is wholly brain dead with zero chance of recovery. Her pupils are fixed and dilated and do not respond to light; she does not respond to any of the various intense stimuli; she failed the apnea test which means she’s unable to breathe on her own; imaging tests show no blood flow to her brain and another test showed no electrical activity. She has no cerebral function and a complete absence of brainstem function.

    It’s unfortunate, but she is dead and her heart beats only because of a mechanical ventilator.

    • Ben   January 2, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      Your post is well taken. But who decides if she still has a soul in her body and what test is it based on? Perhaps that is what concerns the parents?

  5. Ann D   January 2, 2014 at 10:47 am

    “Bob”, you’re so disgusting. It’s ignorance like yours that keeps us from evolving as people.

    I wish the best for the family and pray God gives them to let go and say good-bye to their child. He has called her home to and they need to let her body go so her spirit can rest.

  6. Ben   January 2, 2014 at 10:35 am

    You think the dead person cares now anyway? If they are religious, then perhaps they think that the person’s soul is still there? Who is the absolute decider over what dignity is with regards to this and why bring it up? If the determining factor is death defined by being brain dead then an individual’s perception of dignity has nothing to do with it.

  7. AJ   January 2, 2014 at 10:31 am

    The racist comment was unnecessary, Bob the Bigot. The white parents of Terry Schiavo kept her hooked up for over a decade.

    Idiocy knows no skin color.

  8. Job   January 2, 2014 at 10:30 am

    No medical test is 100% accurate. Most cases of brain death determined by EEG really are brain death, but there are notable exceptions). If that result is based on EEG findings only, and the conditions of ischemia of the brain are poorly known, I think the family has the right to keep the child alive a bit longer to make sure. The procedures necessary to transfer the child are minimal cost and should be covered charitably given the situation.
    If the conditions of the ischemia of the brain are well know or the brain iis liquefied due to stroke, then that is another matter and there really would be no chance for recovery. These studies are not 100% but they are pretty good. A second opinion is important here. If this is a child and there is any uncertainty, the hosptal should perform these procedures charitably. Sometimes there is a tendency to sweep everything under the rug in these disasters, rather than deal with them in a sensitive matter.

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