Remember the Humanity of Jahi McMath

As in the case of Terri Schiavo, people with severe brain injuries are treated like second class citizens, often being denied the treatment, care, and love that their humanity demands

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Courtesy of McMath Family and Omari Sealey / AP

Jahi McMath

The tragic facts surrounding 13 year-old Jahi McMath are now well known. She underwent routine surgery at Children’s Hospital Oakland December 9 for removal of her tonsils and some other tissue to alleviate her sleep apnea. After surgery she was alert and sitting up in bed, chatting with her family. However, as her family watched, Jahi began bleeding profusely, the blood on her gown matching the pink popsicle she held in her hand. The bleeding went on for several hours before she went into cardiac arrest and was medically declared brain dead on December 12.

Ever since, Jahi’s family has been locked in a battle of attrition with Oakland Children’s: The hospital says she’s dead; her family says she’s severely brain-injured.

Oakland Children’s position is brutally cold: Because Jahi has been declared brain-dead, she is therefore completely dead, only staying warm via the life-giving oxygen being pumped into her system by a mechanical ventilator. The hospital leadership has taken every opportunity to make clear that they are following California’s legal definition of brain death to the letter. For the hospital, Jahi is a hollow mass of flesh devoid of meaning; the administration has refused to refer to her as a child of a loving family. Instead, they have said that she is a “dead body” and a “deceased person.” Hospital spokesman Sam Singer rubbed even more salt into the wound, noting that “no amount of hope, prayer, or medical procedures will bring her back.”

The hard-nosed corporate line is very simple: Jahi is a mere shell, bereft of humanity, and using up precious resources only because of the naïve and uninformed hopes of her loving but pesky family.

Unsurprisingly, Jahi’s family sees things differently. They watched a vibrant young teenager morph into a starkly silent child, her hopes and potential dashed by a relatively simple medical procedure. They have also made clear that despite her current condition, Jahi is still their beloved child, not some washed-up husk ready for disposal. They have also been clear that Jahi is perhaps not as “dead” as Oakland Children’s Hospital would have us all believe. Jahi’s mother and several family members report that Jahi has responded to familiar voices. They have made the case that at the very least Jahi’s medical condition should be given some time before a radical hospital decision deprives her of her life for good.

For the hospital, Jahi’s medical diagnosis is certain and final, a diagnosis they want to leverage to close the book on a public relations crisis that has already badly diminished the reputation of the facility.

It’s not that simple, however, because no medical diagnosis is absolute. The research literature is rife with clinically observed instances of patients outstripping their physicians’ dire predictions by months, years, and even decades.

And that includes diagnoses of brain death.

For example, in 2008 Zack Dunlap was declared brain-dead after an ATV accident based on exactly the same criterion offered in Jahi’s case: a PET scan revealed that he had no blood flowing to his brain. His body was prepared for organ harvesting, but alert family members were able to elicit behavioral signs that showed he was anything but brain dead. Forty-eight days later, Zack walked out of a rehab center and went home.

Colleen Burns was another example of how fallible a medical diagnosis of brain death can be. Admitted to a hospital in Syracuse, New York, after a drug overdose, she, like Zack Dunlap, was declared brain dead and prepared for organ harvesting. She woke up on the operating table shortly before the operation began, and was discharged shortly thereafter.

In Jahi’s case, late Friday afternoon, Alameda County Superior Judge Evelio Grillo brokered an agreement allowing for Jahi to be transferred with her ventilator to another facility where she will be cared for as a brain-injured, rather than a “dead” patient. Oakland Children’s was quick to stipulate that they would not be responsible for anything that befell Jahi during the move. One wonders why they are so adamant seeing that, for their purposes, Jahi is already a corpse.

One thing is abundantly clear: The McMath case presents a stark scenario of the medical community running rough-shod over the wishes of parents and other loved ones when it comes to needed and necessary medical treatment. In the trenches of medical futility warfare, cases like these are often overlooked. Our experience, similar to those of Jahi and her family, is that people with severe brain injuries are treated like second class citizens, often being denied the treatment, care, and love that their humanity demands.

In our current healthcare climate, bureaucratic medical decision-making by corporate-medico fiat is likely to increase, making it likely that we will increasingly lose the Zack Dunlaps and Colleen Burnses of the world.

Schindler is Executive Director of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network. Mostert is a member of its Board of Directors.

124 comments
KimberlyTurner
KimberlyTurner

"The tragic facts surrounding 13 year-old Jahi McMath are now well known."



I stopped here because I knew by this, everything else in this article would be wrong. The facts are anything BUT well known. The only side we have heard from is the mother. 

CrayZeeKaylee
CrayZeeKaylee

Jahi did NOT have a ROUTINE TONSILLECTOMY. STOP LYING! Jahi also didn't lose weight, to treat her Sleep Apnea, instead of having an invasive surgery, and her MOM can be blamed for that. I also do NOT believe this child BLED FOR HOURS before she passed away. Is anything in your article true?

jxnmspro
jxnmspro

I hate to even bring this up, but could MICRA (the CA law limiting death payouts due to medical errors to $250,000) have anything to do with this case?  Apparently if Jahi dies due to the surgery, any monetary payout would be limited to $250,000; however, if she suffers brain injury the payout is limitless.  Probably another reason why the hospital was so eager to declare her dead, and, to be honest, it's probably a motive to her family to look for a bigger payout.

KimberlyTurner
KimberlyTurner

@jxnmspro OF course. Don't you remember Uncle bringing that very thing up and making sure everyone knew that instead of going that route they can sue and get up to 30 Million?  lol

RobinMills
RobinMills

Please note that the authors of this article are from the Terri Schaivo Family.  Bobby's bio: After his graduation from LaSalle University with a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing, Bobby went on to obtain a degree in meteorology from Florida State University.  [NOT a medical doctor]

Mark Mostert, from Johannesburg, South Africa, completed his undergraduate degree from the Johannesburg College of Education, majoring in special education and biblical studies. His PhD is in special education. [Again, NOT a medical doctor).

This article is for one purpose and one purpose only and that is to perpetuate their own agenda.

FergusMason1
FergusMason1

"people with severe brain injuries are treated like second class citizens"

But Jahi doesn't have severe brain injuries. In fact by this point she doesn't have a brain. It turned to liquid and ran down into her chest cavity three weeks ago.

FergusMason1
FergusMason1

"After surgery she was alert and sitting up in bed, chatting with her family."

Yes, and there's the problem. She wasn't SUPPOSED to be chatting, was she? And her family knew that. It's about time people started listening to medical advice, and accepting the responsibility if they don't.

PaytonBlake
PaytonBlake

Bobby Schindler and Mark Mostert, if you're going to write about the "facts" of this case then actually check your facts before you write something like this.

olyve9202
olyve9202

Okay, as for all the cases listed above:  First of all Zack Dunlap began showing signs of life in just a little over 36 hours. And Madeleine Gauron awakened the next day. Lydia Paillard woke up in only 14 hours. Gloria Cruz awakened 3 days later. Lydia Paillard was MISTAKENLY declared brain dead - in fact, she was only in a coma. These cases are vastly different than that of Jahi's, in that they awakened a very short time after being declared "brain dead". Their bodies had not begun to deteriorate. Jahi has been gone for more than a month now.  Her body is decomposing which means they are providing "life" support to a cadaver. It's macabre - like a cheap horror film. I've lost all empathy for the family. Jahi has moved on from her body - her mother needs to move on, as well. It's so sad and undignified that her mother would allow her body to be treated in this manner.

AnitaNy
AnitaNy

Recent cases of people being declared brain dead, then recovering contradict what doctors and organ procurement groups having been telling the public since 1968."Brain dead is dead. There is no 'recovery,'" one organ procurement organization says on itswebsite. It's a familiar refrain, but one that savvy medical consumers would do well to investigate before agreeing to become organ donors.The "Dead" AwakenIn July, a woman diagnosed as "brain dead" did the supposedly impossible. Madeleine Gauron woke up. Transplant folks had already sought consent to harvest her organs, but fortunately for her, her family refused, demanding proof she was really dead.That case follows on the heels of a similar "miracle" in Australia in March. Doctors declared Gloria Cruz, 56, brain dead. She regained consciousness three days later.Lydia Paillard revived after a diagnosis of brain death in October. Sebastien Paillard was considering consenting to turning off his mother's ventilator at the doctor's recommendation when staff members noticed signs of brain activity in the "dead" woman.Three woman in a single year, first they were irrevocably dead, and then they weren't. Before them, there was Zack Dunlap.Zack Dunlap, Brain Dead or Living?Zack Dunlap was declared brain dead in 2008. Organ harvesters were at the ready and actually began the process, according to NeuroLogica. An impulsive decision by Dunlap's cousin to make a final check of his vital signs saved his life.After his ordeal, Dunlap remembered being declared brain dead and feeling "ticked off" at the doctor, he told the TODAY Show.But the hospital treating Dunlap insists he was really dead, according to the Toronto Star. Dr. Leo Mercer said there was no blood flow to Zack's brain, therefore, "He was dead.

FredOlent
FredOlent

So why is the majority of the nation bending over backwards to make comments in anger about the parents and towards others in favor of them for not letting Jahi go? Why do you all care so much rather than minding your own business and life? Furthermore, science rebukes itself all the time. One day eggs are good for us, another day they're not, the next day again they are good for us, and 6 years later they are not again. Why should I believe other people, instincts come first. Mistakes have been made in life all the time!

CatherineBaxter
CatherineBaxter

@FredOlent any idea whatsoever the costs of 24/7 medical care for this dead person? Insurance does not pay for medical care or storage for dead people. The coroner issued a death certificate. Does this ridiculous family look like they can afford the millions of dollars in care for this dead child? That leaves one resource..taxpayer. I resent like hell being forced to care for a dead kid. They are just waiting for the lawsuit. The child is dead, will start to smell and have her skin slough off. THEN can we bury her?

charlieb1488
charlieb1488

Why no mention that the family decided to suction the girl? There was much more to the procedure than your article describes. I donated money to the family for the stipulated reason (as the gofundme site clearly explained) of transporting Jahi to an out of state facility. I am going to report the family for fraud since my credit card was charged and there is no evidence my donation was used in the manner it was requested and given. This family is looking for a payday. 

CrayZeeKaylee
CrayZeeKaylee

@charlieb1488 The family did indeed say the funding was to AIR EVAC her out of CHO. We now know she was DRIVEN TO HER MOM' HOUSE. I'd chargeback on my credit card if I was you as well.

KimberlyTurner
KimberlyTurner

I see a HUGE lawsuit in your future. What an idiot. 

FionaBeswick
FionaBeswick

Given there is no proper health care in the US, who pays? I know they have donations. But assuming they didnt. What then? Terri Schiavo was paid for by lawsuit money. What if the family had lost the suit? 

If your relative is in a persistent vegetative state and you have no cash, what happens?

gotham77
gotham77

@FionaBeswick Wouldn't someone in a PVS be considered severely disabled and qualify for Medicaid?

FionaBeswick
FionaBeswick

@gotham77 @FionaBeswick I don't know because I'm not an American. Is that the case? If you're severely disabled you get Medicaid? Who would fill in the paperwork? But in this case, she isn't disabled. She's not resting. She's stone dead. 


You know, not to be flippant, but that's reminded me of the Dead Parrot sketch. "This parrot is No More. It has Ceased To Be. It has rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible…This: Is An Ex-Parrot"

CatherineBaxter
CatherineBaxter

@gotham77 @FionaBeswick and she is not in a PVS either.she is DEAD. If the family had shown half as much care or their morbidly obese kid when she was alive, they could have put her fat self on a diet and made her exercise and the surgery would have been totally not necessary. But too bad, so sad, they did not put the fat kid on a diet and now she is unfortunately DEAD

FionaBeswick
FionaBeswick

@bullrider @FionaBeswick I mean, no universal health care. That is what the rest of the world means by 'proper health care'. Care for all, paid for by a universal tax, so when you get sick you never need to fight an insurance company, or pay a whopping deductible or copay…or just get no care at all. I read an article from a community clinic recently describing how desperately poor people come in showing signs of possible liver cancer, but cannot get even a biopsy to find out. 

It's contemptible, as is having guns and the death penalty and having half the people in your absolutely atrocious jails be seriously mentally ill. And it seems like nobody cares. Its how you treat your least people, not your luckiest and richest, that determines how civilized you are. 

America really has a nerve shouting at China over human rights.

JeremyLeis
JeremyLeis

"Schindler is Executive Director of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network"

That explains that.....

princessass
princessass

Bobby Schindler is a despicable bottom feeder. He is a filthy liar and I hope the hospital sues him for libel!

GregHorowitz
GregHorowitz

@princessass 


Bobby Schwindler has proven time and again he only cares for one thing; Bobby Schwindler.  If that means standing on the corpses of all these dead people, so be it.

ChrisSadler
ChrisSadler

She is *dead*.  Dead.... not living... dead.  How did these 2 get a platform to write.  What garbage.  The poor girl is dead and those involved now should be charged with indignities to a corpse.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

Typical "pro-life" nonsense.  Life begins at conception, ends at birth and begins again at brain death.