Time is limited for brain-dead teen, medical experts, ethicists say

Jan. 7, 2014 at 2:54 PM
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OAKLAND, Calif., Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Medical experts said time is limited for Jahi McMath, the brain-dead girl transferred by her family from an Oakland, Calif., hospital to another care facility.

Jahi, 13, underwent a tonsillectomy Dec. 9 at Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland and was declared brain-dead after she went into cardiac arrest and suffered extensive brain hemorrhaging. Three neurologists confirmed she was unable to breathe on her own, had no blood flow to her brain and no electrical activity.

After the Alameda County coroner issued a death certificate Friday, listing Dec. 12 as the date of her death, and negotiations with a federal judge, Jahi's family obtained approval to remove her body, attached to a ventilator, from the hospital.

Now under the responsibility of her mother, Jahi was moved to a care facility. The family has not said which one.

Once cessation of brain activity is confirmed, there is no recovery, said Rebecca Dresser, medical law and ethics professor at Washington University in St. Louis. The Los Angeles Times noted Tuesday Dresser served on a 2008 presidential bioethics counsel that confirmed "whole-brain death" as legal death.

Arthur Caplan, medical ethics director at New York University Langone Medical center, said the McMath case could compel other families to challenge the legal definition of death.

Families could "ultimately say, 'I'd like to take this body home and wait for a miracle.' That would be a public policy of disrespect for dead bodies. The ability to get clear about brain death has been a real obstacle. This [the McMath case] hasn't helped at all."

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