A ‘Brain-Dead’ Jahi McMath Brings Society Back to A Conversation We Need to Revisit


*When is it time to pull the plug?

You may have heard, 13-year-old Jahi McMath, the teen who went into cardiac arrest following a “routine tonsillectomy” at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland – and has been on life support ever since – has been released from the hospital and is now in the care of her mother. Her case brings up an issue we have been grappling with for a long, long, time.

To catch you up, if you’re just learning about this for the first time, Jahi was determined brain dead by “experts” because there is no blood flow or activity to her brain. The courts also agree so far, and on Friday the coroner issued a death certificate listing Dec. 12 as the date of death.

Jahi’s family members are fighting against this diagnosis because, although Jahi is still attached to a ventilator, she is “alive” to them because she is still warm to the touch, has a heartbeat, and, according to her mother, has responded to touch. It is this assertion that has bioethics experts concerned. According to the L.A. Times, these experts believe that news media coverage repeating the family assertions that Jahi is alive has clouded an issue the public already has difficulty grasping.

“The ability to get clear about brain death has been a real obstacle,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. “This hasn’t helped at all.”

“That person looks unconscious but the skin is warm, the chest is going up and down, and those are signs of life to us,” said Rebecca S. Dresser, professor of law and ethics in medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, who served on a presidential bioethics council that in 2008 reaffirmed “whole-brain death” as legal death. “So it’s very understandable that when ordinary people see a body in that shape it’s hard to think of that individual as dead.”

Jahi and her family’s heart-wrenching issue opens up the difficult discussion surrounding who should determine the end-of-life.

Since Jahi is a minor, the decision automatically falls on her parent(s) to decide whether the plug should be pulled or not. But if Jahi were an adult, she would need to have a Will in place designating someone to make this decision for her.

I am reminded of 61-year-old Hassan Rasouli, who has been on life support for three years following complications from brain surgery. His family had been fighting the courts ever since to keep him on life support. The fight ended in a ruling that a court cannot decide to end a life without the family’s consent.

As is the case with Jahi and her family. With that, though the court is said to agree that the girl is brain-dead, they still had no legal leg to stand on in ending her life. Subsequently, the family of Jahi McMath took their loved one, still attached to the ventilator, to an undisclosed facility last Sunday.

Many people think they don’t need to prepare a Will because they don’t believe its necessary. They are looking at this “final love letter” to their family as something only those with material wealth and possessions need to think about. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Should something happen to you and you are unable to make the final decision about your care, your designation of someone to make the decision for you should be on your Last Will and Testament. And this legal document cannot be denied. Please don’t take this lightly. And please get over the fact that death is a conversation you don’t want to have. What choice do you have? You can’t tell us after you’re dead!!!

If you have questions about this, or need resources on how you may be able to get a complimentary Will to protect you, feel free to contact [email protected]

Read the L.A. Times article here.

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