Pediatrician: Jahi McMath is Not “Brain Dead,” Can Recover With Proper Care

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 31, 2013   |   2:29PM   |   Oakland, CA

A leading pediatrician says that Jahi McMath, who is at the center of a national debate about whether she should remain on life support, is not “brain dead” and can recover with proper care and nutrition.

Late Monday afternoon, the judge in the case granted an extension for life support after a legal request from her family’s attorney.

Dr. Paul A. Byrne, a Neonatologist who is the Director of Neonatology and Director of Pediatrics at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Oregon, Ohio, has given a new interview to a local NBC television station. Byrne is also a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics University of Toledo College of Medicine and the past president of the Catholic Medical Association.

Byrne told the station he does not believe that brain death is “true death” and said, with “proper nutrition and care,” McMath can have meaningful recovery to the degree that she would not meet the “brain death” criteria. He also said as much in court findings that Christopher Dolan, the attorney for McMath’s family.

At the time of the interview, Dr. Byrne had not yet had an opportunity to examine Jahi in person.

Bryne has previously been involved in similar cases — including that of Jospeh Maraachli, a 13-month-old baby boy whose family fought the decision by a Canadian hospital to not allow him to have a tracheotomy so they could bring him home.

Maraachli was the subject of controversy as his parents were fighting a hospital that wants to remove his breathing tube. They want the boy to be able to die peacefully at home with his family, but the hospital will not perform the tracheotomy.

In that case, Byrne said a tracheotomy is necessary.

“They need to do a tracheostomy,” he said then. “If the baby is stable otherwise, and has a tracheostomy, then the baby can be taken care of at home. Assuming doctors can do something to support the vital activities, we ought to do them. And a tracheostomy ought to be done, and the baby ought to continue on the ventilator.”

“I’ve never seen a time to turn off a ventilator,” he added. “If a baby has a disease process that’s so bad that they’re going to die, then they die on the ventilator anyway.  So you don’t have to stop the ventilator.”