Brain dead teen still on life support as deadline looms
OAKLAND, Calif. — Jahi McMath remains on a ventilator at the same hospital where doctors declared the 13-year-old brain dead after tonsil surgery.
And while many people get their New Year’s countdown clocks ready, the girl’s family is scrambling as a darker deadline looms.
Last week, a judge ruled that the hospital could disconnect life support at 5 p.m. Monday.
“To our knowledge, they [the family] do not have a facility to move the body to,” Children’s Hospital Oakland spokesman Sam Singer told reporters Monday.
Jahi’s family told CNN affiliate KGO that they spent Sunday working the phones, trying to line up another option.
The case has drawn national attention and sparked protests from some local leaders who say the hospital that treated her should have provided better care.
Medical ethicists, meanwhile, say the high-profile case fuels a misconception: that “brain death” is somehow not as final as cardiac death, even though, by definition, it is. The case is “giving the impression that dead people can come back to life,” Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, told CNN last week.
On Monday, the hospital spokesman once again stressed that the girl had died.
“No amount of prayer, no amount of hope, no amount of any type of medical procedure will bring her back. … The medical situation here in this case is that Jahi McMath died several weeks ago,” Singer said.
Asked by reporters what the hospital would do at 5 p.m. Monday, Singer declined to comment.
“The court has said at 5 p.m. today that the hospital will be allowed to unplug the ventilator, which is the only thing that is keeping Jahi McMath’s heart beating. … There are no winners in this very tragic case,” Singer said.
But Jahi’s family members maintain that they’re hoping for a miracle and want to transfer the girl from Children’s Hospital Oakland to another facility. A statement released by family members Saturday and provided to KGO says they are weighing several options.
Media reports since then have suggested that at least one option has fallen through. The attorney representing Jahi’s family has not responded to requests from CNN for comment on the matter Monday.
So far the family has raised $22,728.00 on GoFundMe.com to move her. According to the site, more than 700 people have donated money in three days.
Jahi was declared brain dead by doctors at the hospital on December 12, three days after tonsil surgery.
CNN has obtained a copy of a medical report, contained in a court filing, that lays out in extensive detail the testing that supports the hospital’s conclusion that McMath has no hope of recovery.
The report was prepared by Dr. Paul Fisher, Chief of Pediatric Neurology at Stanford University, who was appointed by Alameda Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo to examine the girl and report his findings to the court.
Fisher found that the girl’s pupils were fully dilated and unresponsive to light and that she did not respond to a variety of intense stimuli.
His report also says McMath showed no sign of breathing on her own when a ventilator was removed: “Patient failed apnea test.” While the family has referred to Jahi’s heart beating, the report says it is only beating because of the mechanical ventilator.
In addition, an imaging test showed no blood flow to Jahi’s brain, while another showed no sign of electrical activity.
Fisher’s conclusion: “Overall, unfortunate circumstances in 13-year-old with known, irreversible brain injury and now complete absence of cerebral function and complete absence of brainstem function, child meets all criteria for brain death, by professional societies and state of California.”
Family members and hospital officials have fought over her future in court. Last week, a judge ruled she was brain dead and urged both sides to work together to resolve the situation.
But the sparring showed no sign of slowing over the weekend, with family members sharply criticizing the hospital’s handling of the matter.
“We wish to acknowledge that Jahi’s case, and our stance regarding her right to life, and her mother’s right to make decisions regarding her child, has stirred a vibrant, sometimes polarizing, national debate. This was never our intention,” the family’s statement said. “We have our strong religious convictions and set of beliefs and we believe that, in this country, a parent has the right to make decisions concerning the existence of their child: not a doctor who looks only at lines on a paper, or reads the cold black and white words on a law that says ‘brain dead’ and definitely not a doctor who runs the facility that caused the brain death in the first place.”
The hospital’s statement Sunday said they were supporting Jahi’s family.
“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,” the hospital said.