Commentary: McMath family isn't stupid, deserve better treatment

Jan. 21, 2014 at 8:51 AM
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OAKLAND, Calif., Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The parents of brain-dead Jahi McMath aren't fools and they have the right to make medical decisions for a child, the California couple's attorney said.

"Despite the incendiary, hateful public rhetoric that has surrounded this case, I believe that self-interest alone should lead most Americans to thank Nailah Winkfield, Jahi's anguished mother, for her courage," Christopher Dolan, who has represented Jahi's family free as they fought against Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland from removing their daughter from life-support systems, wrote in a commentary published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times.

"For the most part, those who have attacked Jahi's family argue these simplistic, uninformed points: The family is either stupid, misled by their lawyer or trying to exploit the system," Dolan wrote. "Why can't they simply accept the doctors' decrees? Why should they be different?"

The 13-year-old 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.

While at the hospital in Oakland, she was on a ventilator and was receiving fluids intravenously, but was not being given nutrition. Her family fought for the right to transfer her to another care facility where she could receive nutrition, hoping for a miraculous recovery. Jahi now is at another facility and is receiving nutrition through a feeding tube.

Dolan said the events at the Oakland hospital "will most likely be a matter of litigation."

"But if you were Jahi's mother, would you want the doctors and hospital authorities you believed had contributed to -- or even caused -- your child to be declared 'brain dead' making final decisions about her?" he said.

Winkfield was "cruelly" forced to get a "death certificate" from the Alameda County Registrar of Births and Death to move Jahi from the Oakland hospital to a site where she could receive care. That, too, was an ordeal because the agency didn't want to issue the certificate because Jahi was still on life-supporting systems.

He also noted that being declared "brain dead" by a doctor isn't sufficient "as a declaration of death everywhere in the United States."

"Nailah's fight is the fight of a loving mother for her child," he said. "It is a fight for privacy in the making of a medical decision. It is a fight for a strongly held belief in the miracles and mercy promised by the Bible."

"If any among her critics share her faith, how could they call her ignorant or ridiculous for actually believing in the power and mercy of God?" Dolan concluded. "If they would have made a different decision, then right-on, they are Americans and they get to make their own choice."

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