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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Jahi McMath’s Ventilator to Continue



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On one hand, we have to admire the extent to which the life of Jahi McMath matters–certainly to the family, but also to the law. And good on the family’s lawyer, Christopher B. Dolan, for going all out for his clients in a difficult and controversial case. That’s what lawyers are supposed to be about.

On the other hand, this is a terrible agony that grows more excruciating by the day. A judge has extended the time in which the ventilator support maintaining the body of Jahi is to continue. I say, “maintaining the body” because the court has ruled she is legally deadFrom the CNN story:

Doctors and a judge have declared her brain dead and said there’s no chance Jahi will come back to life. A deadline loomed Monday as a judge had said the hospital could disconnect the machines after 5 p.m. (8 p.m. ET). But shortly before Jahi could have been cut off, that same judge extended his order to 5 p.m. (8 p.m. ET) on January 7.

The girl’s family told reporters it had located a facility in New York willing to take Jahi. The Oakland hospital, however, will not allow them to move her, according to the girl’s uncle, Omari Sealey.

Some will say they don’t trust the hospital. I have certainly caught hospital representatives lying in publicly controversial cases involving serious brain injury. And in my law career, I was once involved in a case in which doctors covered up, very much like the one in The Verdict.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case here, or the judge would have changed his ruling about death. Rather he seems to be giving the family every possible opportunity to find another way.

There have been three separate examinations–one by a medical professor from Stanford–all determining that Jahi has no brain function.

If there is evidence to the contrary, it will come out. I did a little research, and it appears that Dr. Paul Byrne may be involved. He is a well known campaigner against the very concept of brain death. He’s not alone. Dr. Alan Shewmon, of UCLA, also doesn’t accept that brain dead is dead.

But the law certainly does. After much thought and research, I do too–assuming proper and thorough testing, not always a given. The Catholic Church also accepts the concept.

I can’t imagine this case will become a vehicle for testing that legally. But then, I am the guy who thought Mitt Romney would win the 2012 election.

People who are brain dead cannot, except in the rarest of cases, be maintained indefinitely. At some point in the near future Jahi’s body will begin to deteriorate despite medical intervention. If it doesn’t–well, that will be eyebrow raising.

As more details come out, I will keep updating.



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