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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

“Brain Dead” Teen’s Life Support to End



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Jahi McMath is dead, a judge has ruled after an independent medical examiner agreed with previous determinations that she has lost all brain function. Under the law, that is the necessary ruling. Under the law, life support is not required to maintain the body of a late patient.

The judge gave the family, still fighting the determination, until Monday to appeal or adjust to the tragic reality. From the San Francisco Chronicle story:

An Alameda County judge declined Tuesday to force Children’s Hospital Oakland to continue providing medical care to a 13-year-old girl whom physicians declared brain-dead nearly two weeks ago after tonsil-removal surgery. But Jahi McMath will remain on a breathing machine for the time being, as Judge Evelio Grillo kept in place a restraining order until 5 p.m. Monday, giving the girl’s family an opportunity to take its case to a higher court.

The judge ruled after a court-appointed doctor – Paul Fisher, chief of neurology at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford – examined Jahi and testified that she is legally brain-dead and cannot recover any brain function.

I hope the family spends the remaining time loving Jahi and making preparations, as there is zero chance in my view that the court’s ruling will be overturned on appeal. If a miracle is to happen, it will have to be when the breathing assistance is removed. People who are brain dead have no ability to breathe on their own.

It’s also a shame the hospital has handled the tragedy so maladroitly. I was speaking about this to a former pediatric nurse who used to work in Children’s Hospital Oakland’s ICU. She said the facility has a real calling to serving the African-American community, and this has hurt trust. That’s why I was upset to hear a hospital spokesman say he was “gratified” that the court validated the hospital’s diagnosis.

No, the proper and decent thing would have been to say that they were sorry the original diagnosis was affirmed. Good grief.

For the differences between brain dead–actually death declared by neurological criteria–and a diagnosis of living in an unconscious state (often misdiagnosed), see here.



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