It is with some trepidation that I write this article because the death of a child is probably the worst thing that can ever happen to a parent. The case of Jahi McMath who was declared brain dead after a "routine" tonsillectomy" made headlines after her parents refused to allow doctors to shut down the ventilator keep her body alive.

Although, such catastrophe has not hit my personal family, my older brother had that horrifying experience when his daughter "Chrissy" died of brain cancer before she reached her seventh birthday. I feel nothing but compassion for the McMath family who face a decision that would put even Solomon at a loss. The following is an abbreviated version of her story.

On December 12, 2013, Jahi McMath went to Children's Hospital in Oakland to have her tonsils removed, but her heart stopped during surgery leaving her brain dead. Unfortunately, religion creates the impression that there is a miracle just waiting to happen, but ignores the reality and complicates any already delicate issue.

Jahi's uncle, Omari Sealey, said, told the Tribune on Monday. "As long as she has a pulse, we want her on life support," "We want her to come home for Christmas. We want to give her presents. We want a chance for a Christmas miracle."[1]

Jahi McMath's mother, Nailah Winkfield, fought the Oakland hospital in court to keep her 13-year-old “alive” after doctors wanted to remove her from the life support system. The judge in the case ordered the equipment to remain on until further notice. Eventually, her mother succeeded in having the child released into her custody.

The girl was transferred from Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, outside of San Francisco, where she had remained without brain activity for nearly four weeks, to an undisclosed Catholic care center. [2]

The family’s attorney, Christopher Dolan, said the Jahi is in “bad shape” after Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland refused to give the legally dead 13-year-old a feeding tube for almost a month, the family's attorney says.

“They left her without nutrition, she has severe infections; she’s struggling,” Dolan told the Daily News on Monday. “These are things that are easily preventable, but when they wrote her off as dead, they stopped caring for her. We don’t know what the outcome is going to be[3].”

Medics and a court agreed to turn off her life support machine, and the Alameda County coroner issued a death certificate. However, her family fought the decision and won an injunction that stopped the hospital from flipping the switch. [4]

Shortly after moving to the new facility, Jahi underwent surgery to insert feeding and breathing tubes. Doctors at the new care center performed tracheostomy and gastrostomy surgeries, Christopher Dolan, attorney for the girl's family, said in a Twitter message.[5]

"She is doing very well, and now getting the treatment she should have gotten 28 days ago," Dolan said. "Doctors are optimistic that her condition has stabilized." [6] In addition, Dolan declared, declared brain dead teen to be ‘improving.’[7]

Shortly after Jahi’s located to another facility, Day Gardner, President, National Black Pro-Life Union said, “I believe that Jahi is sleeping and given enough time, God can and will decide when and if she awakens. I am praying for a miracle..."[8]

"Despite what they say, she is alive. I can touch her, she is warm. She responds to my touch," Nailah Winkfield wrote Saturday.

"Given time I know (God) will spark her brain awake," she wrote in the open letter.

Nevertheless, courts have unanimously agreed that McMath has died, as brain death is one of two legal deaths put forward by the Uniform Determination of Death Act. Dr. Heidi Flori, a critical care physician at Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland, said,

"Mechanical support and other measures taken to maintain an illusion of life where none exists cannot maintain that illusion indefinitely."[9]

Jahi’s family is deeply religious, however, in this sad case already marred by controversy and the loss of a child is being further distorted by a belief system that refuses to acknowledge the weight of science and in doing so is causing the family even more gut-wrenching pain and suffering.

To make it clear what Jahi’s family is dealing with a non-technical explanation of what happens to a body once brain death occurs. Without the brain, the body does not secrete important hormones needed to keep biological processes —including gastric, kidney and immune functions—running for periods longer than about a week. For example, thyroid hormone is important for regulating body metabolism, and vasopressin is needed for the kidneys to retain water.

A detailed look at the picture above gives an idea of what is required to maintain the “illusion” of life.

Normal blood pressure, which is also critical for bodily functions, often cannot be maintained without blood-pressure medications in a brain-dead person. A brain-dead person also cannot maintain his or her own body temperature, so the body is kept warm with blankets, a high room temperature and, sometimes, warm IV fluids.[10]

Although Jahi’s mother can hear her daughter’s heart pumping, touch the warmth of her skin and see her chest rising and falling, it is mechanical. Remove the machines and Jahi’s body dies. God is not keeping her alive and no miracle will be coming no matter the amount of prayers. Rather than being a comfort in the dire time of this family’s distress, it has raised false hope when there is none and is holding them hostage until the inevitable happens.

No one wants to lose a child. No one. In addition, no doctor wants to end a life if there is a chance at recovery, but in this case, Jahi is dead. Only machines give the appearance that life remains. Let her go and move on to grieving.



[1] Family furious, hospital investigating after tonsil surgery leaves girl brain-dead, David DeBolt and Rick Hurd, The Oakland Tribune, December 16, 2013, http://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_24734407/family-furious-hospit...

[2] Lee Moran and Sasha Goldstein, New York Daily News, January 6, 2014, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/jahi-mcmath-brain-dead-tee...

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[7] 'Brain Dead' Teen Now Has Feeding, Breathing Tubes, Lauren Zima, KNTV News, January 9, 2014, http://www.newsy.com/videos/brain-dead-teen-now-has-feeding-breathi...

[8] Day Gardner Comments on Jahi McMath and Her Family's Struggle to Keep Her Alive, ChristianNewsWire, December 31, 2013 http://www.christiannewswire.com/news/5068473413.html

[9] 'Inevitable': As Jahi McMath deteriorates, brain-death case nears end, Ari Bloomekatz, LA Times, January 9, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-jahi-mcmath-body-deteri...

[10] Life After Brain Death: Is the Body Still 'Alive'?, Rachael Rettner, live science, January 3, 2014, http://www.livescience.com/42301-brain-death-body-alive.html

Views: 259

Tags: Brain, Medicine, Religion, and, death, faith, hope, medical, miracles, science

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Comment by The Flying Atheist on January 26, 2014 at 1:24am

You are correct, Daniel.  But common sense has finally prevailed.  A Texas judge has ruled the hospital to remove the woman from life support.  

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/25/us-usa-pregnant-texas-idU...   

Comment by Daniel W on January 25, 2014 at 11:37pm

details, not derails. damn these big fingers.

Comment by Daniel W on January 25, 2014 at 11:37pm

It's a tragic situation. Then there is the opposite - is it in Texas? where a pregnant, brain dead woman and her deformed fetus are being kept alive against the family's wishes and the deceased's prior expressed wishes, to supposedly save what is a nonviable fetus. I may have these derails wrong, too tired right now to look it up.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on January 23, 2014 at 9:42pm

I'm going to check this out. Sitting here listening to some AH the difference between non-nodular lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It was already a dry ass subject, but this guy is making my lids flicker in and out. I was glad when I heard my computer ring for new mail. Will post tomorrow when I get a chance to listen.

Comment by Napoleon Bonaparte on January 23, 2014 at 7:58pm

Text to Speech

Comment by The Flying Atheist on January 23, 2014 at 6:53pm

The Point of Inquiry Podcast recently covered this issue and the Jahi McMath situation specifically.  I highly recommend you listen to it.  It mentioned how miscommunication and the use of wrong wording by medical professionals is causing a lot of faulty hopes and expectations for the families of those who are hospitalized and clinically dead.  

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/arthur_caplan_phd_-_ethics_of_brain_d... 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on January 23, 2014 at 3:35pm

Loren you are exactly right. Terri Schiavo was considered to be in a vegetative state, meaning that she had some very low level brain activity, but this child has no activity. None. Everything is done for her my a machine. The machine stops, so does she. I was particularly bothered by the mother saying that she felt her daughters warmth and saw the rise and fall of her chest. I is so sad when a preacher says that the child is just sleeping. Scientific knowledge should have prevailed. Instead, they generate false hope where there is none. Sadly, the roof will cave in and the grief will be even worse. I have a legal DNR. I don't want to live a life in a bed, unaware of anything around me. Let me go. Donate this beat up body to science and that's the end. Move on and have good memories.

Comment by Loren Miller on January 23, 2014 at 9:03am

After a fashion, it's Terri Schiavo, all over again: different circumstances, but the same stupidity being exercised.

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