Human Exceptionalism

Judge Orders Life Support for “Brain Dead” Girl

This is the right decision. 

Most of you have probably heard of Jahi McMath, the girl who had catastrophic complications from a tonsillectomy and was later declared “brain dead.” The family wanted an independent medical assessment before considering termination of life support–and unbelievable to me–Children’s Hospital Oakland (which has a good reputation) resisted.

Surprise! That led to litigation. Now, a judge has ordered life support continued pending an exam by a doctor from outside the hospital. From the San Francisco Chronicle story:

An Oakland girl declared dead by Children’s Hospital Oakland must be kept on a ventilator until an independent neurologist can examine her to determine if her brain is showing signs of activity, an Alameda County judge ruled Friday in a case stemming from a tonsillectomy that ended in tragedy…”The statute says there’s a right to have this reviewed by the independent physician,”

So rather than doing what the law required anyway, the hospital made the family sue. Good grief.

Here’s another reason the family might not trust the hospital: Administrators had refused to show them their own daughter’s medical records:

The hospital, which had been withholding Jahi’s medical records from the family, informed the family Friday that it will turn over those documents.

That should have been done on the first request. Otherwise, it looks like something is being hidden.

If the independent physician also finds that the girl is dead, she will undoubtedly be removed from life support as there is no duty to maintain the body of a dead patient. At that point, with more trust in the finding, I wouldn’t be surprised if the family agreed. (See here for details on the proper meaning of ”brain dead.”) 

If any part of her brain is working as a brain, I assume life support will be ordered continued since the girl would legally be alive.

That might not end the matter, however. The hospital could next try to have treatment removed based on medical futility. Now there would be a brouhaha, given that the death declaration would have previously been found mistaken!

I also want to make a larger point beyond this personal tragedy. I believe that Obamacare and Futile Care Theory are sowing great distrust in the medical system. Technocrats are seizing crucial treatment decisions in dire cases away from patients and families. And they can often be very crass and arrogant about such matters.

Moreover, people are figuring out that these kick-the-patient-off-of-treatment decisions are, at least in part, often about cost of care rather than efficacy. In fact, the efficacy of the care is seen as the problem! People are becoming less willing to bow to the “quality of life” death panel mentality that policy makers and bioethicists seek to impose on society.

Plus, mistakes can be made–as in the Haleigh Poutre fiasco in Massachusetts.

There will be pushback from society if this trend continues. Big time.