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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Children’s Hospital “Brain Dead” PR Disaster



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Children’s Hospital Oakland has a very good reputation where I live in the Bay Area. But its public communication around the tragedy of Jahi McMath’s ”brain death” has been astoundingly insensitive, bordering on arrogant.

The hospital’s statements quoted in today’s San Francisco Chronicle continues the maladroit insensitivity. The hospital states it will remove the ventilator the moment that can be done legally. From the story:

Children’s Hospital Oakland officials confirmed Sunday they will turn off the machines sustaining Jahi McMath’s body as soon as a legal injunction expires at 5 p.m. Monday unless otherwise ordered by a court. “Barring any other court-order legal action by the family, the ventilator will be shut off at 5 p.m. tomorrow,” said hospital spokesman Sam Singer. “It’s tremendously sad, but that’s what’s going to occur.”

Not five minutes after five. Not sometime after five. Not one second after five. At five! I can picture a doctor looking at his watch counting down the seconds, “three, two, one…”.

Then there’s this:

“Children’s Hospital Oakland continues to support the family of Jahi McMath in this time of grief and loss over her death,” the hospital said in a statement Sunday. “We continue to do so despite their lawyer’s criticizing the very hospital that all along has been working hard to be accommodating to this grieving family.”

Gee, that’s big of you. Why have hospital spokespersons acted throughout this sad saga as if the institution is the victim?

I gave another example here the other day, noting that I heard a hospital spokesman on the radio claiming he was “gratified” the court agreed with the determination that Jahi was dead. Gratified?! They should have expresses sorrow that the hospital’s doctors had been proven right. I mean, the “victory” isn’t akin to a judge deciding that their version of a disputed contract clause was correct!

There have been other examples of awful care and handling of the grieving family–such as one doctor “compassionately” telling the family during a meeting that Jahi was, “dead, dead, dead, dead.” From the 12/21/13 Chronicle story:

The ruling comes a day after the girl’s relatives met with hospital officials and said the meeting did not go well. They said a doctor had told them that Jahi is “dead, dead, dead, dead” and that further medical care was no longer needed.

Gee, maybe the doctor could try and understand that a family seeing their beloved girl warm and breathing with a machine, might have a difficult time grasping that clinical determination. Sensitivity, please!

I have covered this story extensively here because of its importance on several levels:

  • First and foremost is the terrible personal tragedy of a 13-year-old girl going in for minor surgery and dying–illustrating that most medical treatments have potential risks.
  • On the macro level, there is issue of “brain death” being dead, rather than as some misuse the word, unconscious.
  • There is the issue of the distinction between stopping care for a dead patient and forcing the withdrawal of wanted treatment maintaining the life of a living patient because it is supposedly “futile.” (With Obamacare, expect more coercion forcing the sickest patients off of life-extending treatment–not because it isn’t working but because the patient’s life is being maintained when death is what the technocrats want.) 
  • There is the exacerbating the distrust minorities have for institutions–and their differing views from the technocracy and general community on fighting death to the bitter end.
  • The way in which hospital spokespersons discussed Jahi’s tragedy publicly also illuminates the arrogance among the technocratic class, who too often lose the forest for the trees when considering how public health policies they advocate impact real families.

So sad. So many lessons to be learned.



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