The family of 13-year-old Jahi McMath and Children’s Hospital Oakland have reached an agreement to allow a critical care team to transfer the brain-dead girl to another medical facility. Under the agreement reached Friday, her mother, Naliah Winkfield, will be “wholly and exclusively responsible” for Jahi during the transfer, including in the event that the teen’s heart stops beating.
For weeks, the McMath family has been searching for a medical facility to accept Jahi while simultaneously fighting in court to keep her on life-support. She was declared brain dead on Dec. 12– three days after a tonsillectomy surgery aiming to alleviate her sleeping problems resulted in heavy bleeding and cardiac arrest.
Alameda County Superior Judge Evelio Grillo refused the family’s request for hospital doctors to insert feeding and tracheostomy tubes for the move, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Two hospital physicians and three outside doctors requested by the family have deemed Jahi brain-dead. Children’s does not allow physicians to perform procedures on the deceased.
”Right now, arrangements are being made, and what we needed to know was that when all the balls were in line, that we could move quickly, and not to have impediments, so that we all understood what the protocol was,” said Christopher Dolan, attorney for the family. “So this is a victory in terms of getting us one step closer.”
Meanwhile, the case continues to make headlines across the globe and foster discussions about the ethics of artificially prolonging life. Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, an organization launched shortly after the contentious death of Terri Schiavo in 2005, has been overseeing efforts by several groups to assist in Jahi’s transfer.
“Together with our team of experts, Terri’s Network believes Jahi’s case is representative of a very deep problem within the U.S. healthcare system– particularly those issues surrounding the deaths of patients within the confines of hospital corporations, which have a vested financial interest in discontinuing life,” the organization said in a statement.
Ronda Hughes, an associate professor at Marquette University’s College of Nursing specializing in health services research and patient safety, said Jahi will not benefit from more treatments. “When someone is brain-dead that means that the brain cannot function to support life on its own,” Hughes told Life Matters Media. “In this case, the hospital has said the patient is brain-dead. There is no technology, there is nothing to bring the patient back to life, no matter the hospital.”
Death is difficult for many Americans to accept, partly because modern medical technologies have made it possible to prolong life longer than ever before. “This is an extremely difficult situation for anyone to go through, because it involves the death of what appeared to be an otherwise normal, healthy child. No parent expects anything to go wrong with their child,” Hughes said. “We can keep her alive for years on life-support, but to what end? Are we doing what is best for the patient or what is best for the family?”
Hughes said that Americans are much more accepting of deaths after a long illness, and even of those as a result of automobile accidents. “As a society, we have a lot of faith that our medical technology can do things that in reality it can’t.”
[Jan. 6 Update: Brain-Dead Girl Released From Oakland Hospital]