Human Exceptionalism

Making Sure Jahi Stays Dead?

I accept properly diagnosed brain death as dead.  Hence, when three doctors found that Jahi McMath was tragically gone, I accepted the diagnosis. 

But I also wrote that if her body did not deteriorate–as happens in almost all brain death cases–that would raise my eyebrows.  Now, it’s one year later, and she remains here. My eyebrows are now above my receding hairline.

Moreover, I am increasingly suspicious of the seeming ideological commitment of some to making sure she stays dead. The intensity of their resistance to even the possibility that a mistake has been made–or that we can learn something new about the elasticity of the brain–reminds me of the emotional intensity of those who wanted Terri Schiavo dehydrated to death.

I bring this up because I suspect that the case will return to court sometime soon. Also, I think it is important to keep certain facts straight and point out media bias/ignorance when it rears its ugly head–sometimes, it is hard to tell which. 

Let’s look at a Q & A format AP story about the sad anniversary and straighten things out a bit:

Q: Why does her family want to keep her on a ventilator?

A: Jahi’s relatives say their religious beliefs dictate that as long as her heart is beating, Jahi is alive and deserves long-term care. In October, the family released videos of the girl showing her foot and hand appearing to move in response to her mother’s commands.

In other words, they think she’s alive–not because “their religious beliefs dictate” anything. Plus, if she did comply with requests, she’s not brain dead by definition.

But look at what the story completely fails to report: Two very respected neurologists have testified via sworn declarations that she is not now brain dead. This is the most important evidence presented that she may not actually be dead. How could the reporter fail to even mention that?

Then, there is a bit of confusing verbiage:

David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, has said there is no evidence that patients who are brain dead can ever recover. Still, he said that it’s somewhat surprising her body has lasted as long as it has and that some patients can live for years on ventilators.

Well, it’s very rare–but occasionally happens–for a truly brain dead body to be maintained. More to the point, a truly brain dead does not “live” on a ventilator. 

The unprecedented nature of a brain dead person recovering function–which may have happened with Jahi–makes this a very important case. If she has come back, that opens a whole new area of scientific inquiry. From that perspective alone, why fight taking a thorough new look to see if it happened?  

I strongly believe this case needs to be reopened–for Jahi, for her family, for the integrity of the system, and for the good of science.

The harder the “establishment” resists, the more I think their objections are ideological, reflecting deep concerns about how a finding that she is alive would rock their world. 

They are right: It would. But that’s no reason to force her to remain among the dead if that is not where she belongs. 

 

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