The attorney for the family of Jahi McMath says the teenage girl is in “very bad shape” following three weeks of starvation and medical neglect while the family battled Children’s Hospital in Oakland over her fate.
Late Sunday night, Children’s Hospital Oakland released Jahi to her family after a protracted legal battle over whether the hospital had the right to remove her from life support.
On Friday, the hospital reached an agreement with McMath’s family to allow a medical team to enter the hospital to perform the procedures necessary to move her to a medical facility that will continue her care and treatment.
Although the hospital maintains McMath is “brain dead,” her mother and family say she is alive following a tonsillectomy gone awry that has left her in an incapacitated state since early December. The family in the case says the hospital has been starving Jahi for three weeks.
Family attorney Christopher McMath says that has taken its toll, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The family’s attorney, Christopher Dolan, told the San Jose Mercury News, however, that Jahi’s body has deteriorated badly in the weeks since she was declared brain-dead.
“She’s in very bad shape,” he said. “What I can tell you is that those examinations show that her medical condition, separate from the brain issue, is not good.”
While the media, some doctors and even some pro-life people believe Jahi is brain dead, Terri Schiavo’s brother Bobby Schindler says that may not be the case.
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.
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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.