Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old girl with the wide smile who was declared brain dead after a routine tonsillectomy, was set to be removed from life support at 5 p.m. PST (8 p.m. EST) Monday. However, McMath’s family continued to fight against the deadline set by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo, and an extension has been granted until January 7. Omari Sealey, Jahi’s uncle, explained his persistence. “Jahi is moving when her mother speaks to her, and when her mother touches her,” he said. The tragic case is at the center of a controversy surrounding when society determines that a human body is officially dead.
Many have spoken about the ethical obligations relating to the removal of life support such as Rebecca S. Dresser who works in St. Louis as a Washington University professor specializing in the field of ethics in medicine. According to Dresser, who has also served as a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, “As long as the medical consensus is that the patient meets the standards of whole brain death, then that patient is legally dead and there’s no obligation to treat a dead body.”
Officials for the hospital insist that the young girl be removed from life support. The hospital’s attorney, Douglas Straus, released the following statement: “Discussion about performing medical procedures upon a dead body presents unusual and complicated questions. Until there is a definite commitment by a facility to accept Jahi’s body upon specified terms, I don’t think I can tackle those issues.”
Another representative for the hospital, Cynthia Chiarappa, echoed similar sentiments. “We need to be able to talk to the other facility to understand what it is they are capable of doing. This is not transferring an individual in a vegetative state, but a dead body.”
There are rumors of an unnamed pediatrician claiming that Jahi is alive; however, many within the infrastructure of the hospital as well as outside are of the opinion that the young girl is officially, yet tragically, dead. The director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, Arthur Caplan, spoke against the idea of physicians at other facilities accepting Jahi with the intention of inserting feeding and breathing tubes. “I think they have to be adamant that they will not begin any new technology on a corpse. If they don’t, I think it’s disrespectful to the dead in a fundamental way, and it opens the floodgates for other people to say, ‘Oh, you don’t really know when we’re dead, do you? So please make more efforts for my loved ones.’ ”
Children’s Hospital Oakland spokesman Sam Singer explained the situation. “There are no winners in this very tragic case,” he said.
Image Via NDN