Here is the latest update on the situation with 13 year old Jahi MCMath, a patient at Oakland, Ca. Children’s hospital who was, on Dec 12th declared to be brain dead following a routine December 9th tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy. This surgery was to correct to a sleep apnea problem, not for infected tonsils.
On December 9 this otherwise healthy girl enters the hospital. The surgery is performed. A few hours later she begins to bleed copiously from her nose and mouth and goes into cardiac arrest. She is placed on a ventilator.
December 12 she is declared brain dead and the hospital petitions the mother to remove her from the ventilator, declaring that she is totally and irreversibly dead.
The family refuses the request declaring that she is warm, she has a pulse, she is breathing on the ventilator.
The family contacts a law firm of Christopher Dolan of San Francisco, who eventually succeeds in obtaining a restraining order on the hospital with a deadline of Dec 30.
In the meantime reports of this situation begin to appear in local and then national news coverage. The family begins to look for another facility to care for their daughter because Children’s will do nothing more to care for the girl except, as required by law, to keep her on a ventilator.
A handful of hospitals come forward to agree to take her with the provision that Children’s place Jahi on a trachea tube and a gastric feeding tube. Children’s refuses, the hospitals withdraw their offer.
December 30 arrives. Once again the lawyer goes to the Superior Court to gain an extension which he gets until January 7. A state Appellate Court also issues a 24 hour injunction until Attorney Dolan can prepare his brief for the next hearing.
January 1, 2014,:Jahi has now been without proper medical care and nutrition and fluids for 19 days. All this time she has had a pulse, her bodily functions are working. her skin is warm, she moves when touched. However, due to the heart attack and brain injury her bodily functions are diminished. Hormones that would be ordinarily produced have not been replaced with proper medications. She needs nutrition and hydration.
The hospital says she is dead and that “twitching happens in a cadaver,” yet her body has shown no signs of decay as one would expect of a cadaver after being dead for 19 days.
Her body is beginning to show the signs of the stress under which its been placed. An urgent call has gone out from her attorney and groups involved with supporting her life for an ENT doctor (ear, nose and throat) to go into the hospital and insert a trachea in order to facilitate her breathing. Of course, Children’s says that not just any doctor can come into our hospital. They need to be approved by our board.
Jahi and her distraught family are caught in a maelstrom of hotly debated medical and legal procedures. At the middle of all of this is the question of what is the meaning of brain death?
The definition of this term was developed in about 1962 by a team of medical experts for the purpose of facilitating organ transplant procedures. Brain death, then, is a legal term permitting a patient’s organs to be removed for transplant before the body has completely died. So, the question becomes: Is the patient targeted for organ donor really dead or still alive?
If still alive, then is there an ethical problem with causing death in a living patient for the express purpose of using that patient’s organs for someone else?
Was Jahi targeted as a potential organ donor at the moment she developed complications?
Did Jahi’s life and value as an individual human being become of secondary importance to the hospital’s bottom line? It should be quite obvious that something egregious happened to this child during or immediately after the routine surgery which the hospital failed to properly treat.
The hospital says that they have no more responsibility for this now dead patient. The family refuses to allow them to remove the ventilator/life support machine. If Jahi dies the hospital will be held liable. If she lives in a debilitated condition they will be held responsible. Even more serious than that is the question of brain death as a diagnosis.
The Public Health Department of the state of California is now investigating Children’s Hospital’s handling of this patient.
So far only one facility in the whole country has come forward to agree to accept Jahi as a continuing patient. However, she needs at the least a sub-acute care hospital and she needs a doctor to go into Children’s Hospital and perform the surgical procedures required to continue to sustain her.
Stanford and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospitals have sent doctors to examine Jahi and they have backed Children’s diagnosis of brain death and removal from the ventilator.
Dr, Paul Byrne, a neonatologist and pediatrician residing in Ohio, and President of Life Guardian Foundation, flew into Oakland on his own initiative to meet with the family and their lawyer and to examine Jahi. in a statement given to LifeNews.com on the subject of maintaining Jahi McMath, he stated that: I’ve never seen a time to turn off a ventilator,” he added. “If a baby has a disease process that’s so bad that they’re going to die, then they die on the ventilator anyway. So you don’t have to stop the ventilator.”
Medicine has become a battlefield with science on the one side and ethics on the other. Who has the power of life and death over the individual? Is it science, government, society, a committee or is it really God after all?
Spero columnist Camille Giglio is an activist and freelance writer residing in California.