Teenage girl declared brain dead three years ago is alive and recovering; neurologists support her family to undo death certificate
Jahi McMath who had been declared brain dead in 2013 is said to be alive and recovering with time and her family is fighting to reverse her death certificate which was issued by a hospital in California in 2013.
Retired neurologist Dr. Alan Shewmon is supporting the efforts by McMath’s family in revoking her death certificate. A court document filed on June 29 in Alameda County Superior Court by Dr. Alan Shewmon and professor emeritus of paediatrics and neurology at UCLA claimed that videos recorded by the girl’s family from 2014 to 2016 show she is still alive. Shewmon is a veteran critic of how brain death is defined medically. In his court documents, he argued he has seen video clips of the girl twitching her fingers, indicating that her brain is still functioning.
Dr. Shewmon wrote: “The video recordings, as crude and unsystematic as they are, represent the only way at present to decide whether Jahi is permanently comatose or in a minimally conscious state with intermittent responsiveness.”
He added: “Jahi’s subsequent course defied all predictions of what must happen to dead bodies maintained indefinitely on ventilators. Jahi McMath is a living, severely disabled young lady, who currently fulfils neither the standard diagnostic guidelines for brain death nor California’s statutory definition of death.”
The documents claim McMath appeared to move her extremities and respond when faced with simple commands. Although Jahi remains neurologically disabled Shewmon said she is not brain dead.
In a July 6 court filing, one of the hospital lawyers, Jennifer Still said: “body movements could be easily manipulated.”
In December 2013, Jahi McMath went to Oakland Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California, for a routine tonsil and adenoid removal. The surgery was supposed to be a standard surgery and she was supposed to be released from the hospital the following day. However, complications from the surgery left her brain dead, according to the hospital authorities. She was later put on life support at the insistence of her parents despite the fact that doctors and other experts in the hospital said it was both unnecessary and futile in treating a deceased person. The hospital rushed her family to take a decision on whether to keep her on support.
Jahi’s case is similar to the case of 11-month-old Charlie Gard whose parents fought a U.K. hospital to keep their son on life support despite the fact that doctors said he was brain dead and it was unnecessary. His family stepped back from the legal fight last week Monday and Charlie’s life support was withdrawn on Friday.
Jahi’s case and also Charlie Gard’s adds to the ongoing debate over the very definition of death by the medical community and parents’ rights to choose their own child’s medical treatment.
A Northern California judge will soon decide whether to revoke Jahi McMath’s death certificate.