Family Wants To Keep Brain-Dead Girl on Life Support, Hospital Disagrees

Wednesday, 18 Dec 2013 02:34 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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The family of the California girl who was left clinically brain dead last week after a routine surgery does not want their daughter taken off life support and claims the hospital is pressuring them to do so.

Jahi McMath, 13, underwent a procedure Dec. 9 to remove her tonsils in hopes of treating her sleep apnea, weight gain, inability to concentrate, and uncontrollable urination, her family told reporters.

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Directly after the procedure, the girl seemed fine.

"She was alert and talking, and she was asking for a Popsicle because she said her throat hurt," Sandy Chatman, McMath's grandmother, told CNN.

But she soon took a turn for the worse when she began bleeding uncontrollably in her throat. Her oxygen levels dipped dangerously low and she was rushed to intensive care. Three days later, doctors told Jahi's family that she was brain dead.

"Now she is 100 percent brain damaged," her uncle, Omari Sealey, told CNN Monday in a telephone interview. "Medically dead."

Despite doctors' advice, Jahi McMath's family wants her to stay on life support.

"I don't want her off life support because I really feel like she can wake up," Nailah Winkfield, McMath's mother, told CNN's Piers Morgan Tuesday. "I feel like it's just been a rough week for her and, if they just give her some more time, then she'll be able to wake up."

They even presented the Children's Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, Calif., with a cease-and-desist letter this week to try and prevent the facility from taking McMath off her ventilator.

"If the hospital wants to terminate Jahi's life, they should go to court and get a judge to authorize that, not pressure a parent into signing a document in the middle of the night or telling them at 8:30 tomorrow morning your child will be [dead]," attorney Christopher B. Dolan told CNN.

According to Sealey, hospital representatives told the family Monday that keeping McMath on life support wasn't an option.

In a twist that complicates the situation even further, McMath's death has already been reported to the Oakland coroner's office, which is eager to examine the body because time is of the essence when it comes to determining a cause of death.

"Technically, we can go where the body lies and we can begin our investigation as to the causes of death," an official from the coroner's office told CNN. "We have been gracious and we have allowed the parents and the hospital to maintain the child on life support."

Hospital spokeswoman Melinda Krigel said there is no policy on the timing of when to end life support.

"We work with the family to determine when that will happen," she told CNN in an e-mail. "There are instances when the coroner may request termination, but we always work with the family to respect their wishes."

McMath's case has sparked widespread debate about who holds the power to terminate a life: the family or the hospital. Medical experts side with the hospital.

"If the patient is brain dead, they are legally dead and, legally, the doctors and the hospital have the right to stop life support — without the consent of the family," said Dr. J. Randall Curtis, a professor of medicine and the director of the Palliative Care Center of Excellence at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"The legal right to stop is on the doctors' side," Arthur L. Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, told CNN. "We don't treat the dead. Sadly, she has died."

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