Should Federal Court Order Jahi Fed?

by Wesley J. Smith

A federal judge has been asked to order Children’s Hospital Oakland to insert a feeding tube into Jahi McMath’s stomach so she can receive adequate nutrition. From the San Francisco Chronicle story:

Christopher Dolan, attorney for Jahi’s family, has filed requests in three separate courts seeking orders to force the hospital to insert tracheostomy and feeding tubes, but judges have declined to do so.

In papers filed in federal court Thursday, Dolan again asked for an order for the tubes to be inserted. “At this point, Jahi has not had nutrition for nearly three weeks,” he wrote. “She is in desperate need of a tracheostomy tube and a gastric tube. This court should grant plaintiff the relief to allow for Jahi’s transport.”

I don’t see how the judge can do that. A state court has already ruled that Jahi has passed away. There is no basis in law for requiring a deceased person’s body to be nourished. 

I doubt a federal judge would hold an evidentiary hearing on that question. (Recall, it took emergency passage of a federal law to obtain federal court review of the Terri Schiavo situation.) I think that would have to occur for the “perform surgery” order to be made.

Jahi’s body must be receiving some form of IV support or her body would have ceased functioning by now. Details about this have not been published to my knowledge. She would almost certainly need a feeding tube for long-term maintenance.

The hospital claims it will cooperate in transferring Jahi, although it will not permit the procedures done on site:

The hospital would arrange for Jahi to be moved to another site for the procedure, or for long-term care, but has not heard from any facility, doctor or medical transport service regarding her case, hospital spokesman Sam Singer said.

This case is very unusual. The bodies of people declared brain dead are maintained for a very short period of time to allow organ donation. Or, they have life support terminated because death has occurred. 

Most bodies of brain dead people deteriorate relatively quickly regardless of support. There is no indication that that has happened to Jahi.

There are a few cases of people declared brain dead, whose bodies have been maintained for many years. Dr. Alan Shewmon believes these cases disproves the concept. Others say, these people may not actually be brain dead. 

These bodies/people–depending on your POV–do receive and process nutrients provided through feeding tubes. But, I don’t believe any of the cases that Shewmon cites involved coercion of doctors to perform the necessary surgical procedures.

Meanwhile, the sides are supposed to talk settlement in federal and state courts. Unless one side shifts from its basic position, I don’t see how a settlement is possible.

More as developments unfold.