Family of girl declared brain dead wants ruling reversed

Jahi McMath, the Oakland girl declared brain dead in December, responds to commands from her mother, the family's attorney contends.

By Gabrielle Levy
Jahi McMath.
Jahi McMath.

OAKLAND, Calif., Oct. 3 (UPI) -- An attorney for the family of Jahi McMath, the California teen who was declared brain dead in December 2013, says he has new evidence she is alive and will be petitioning to court to have her death declaration reversed.

Chris Dolan showed a small group of reporters video purporting to show the Oakland girl responding to her mother's commands to move her hands and feet.


"Jahi suffered a serious brain injury -- no doubt about it,'' attorney Chris Dolan said. "But we question how accurate the brain-dead assessment is."

Brain death is defined by the medical community to mean there is total loss of all brain function.

Following routine surgery for sleep apnea in December, Jahi, 13, went into cardiac arrest. Doctors at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital declared her brain dead, setting off weeks of court battles as the family sued to prevent the hospital from removing Jahi from a ventilator.

In January, the two sides agreed to allow Jahi to be removed from the hospital and for responsibility for her care to be transferred to her mother. In the ensuing months, Dolan said, researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have conducted brain imaging and other tests that he said found measurable brain activity.


Philip DeFina, the chairman and CEO of the International Brain Research Foundation in New Jersey, said the new findings calls into question the scientific community's understanding of brain death.

Jahi has reportedly been cared for at a private Roman Catholic hospital in New Jersey, at private expense. If Alameda County court declares her alive, UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital would be responsible for the cost of her care.

Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine, said Jahi's recovery -- if true -- would be "miraculous since she was declared dead three times.

"This would force us to re-exmaine the whole nature of death in America," he said. "But I don't believe it."

And Stanford bioethics professor David McManus called into question the findings, because the examination was not done independently.

"I haven't seen any signs or evidence that they have had such an evaluation," he said. "The rest is smoke and mirrors."

Brain dead "patients don't recover -- it's irreversible," he said. "That would be groundbreaking, and a dramatic finding that would be problematic for the entire neurological community."

Attorneys for the Benioff Children's say there are not medical grounds to challenge the court's original finding that Jahi is brain dead, and meanwhile, the deadline for the court to rehear the case passed seven months ago.


Still, David Durand, senior vice president and chief medical officer at the hospital, said in a statement that the hospital "extends its heartfelt sympathy for the family."

"We trust that the California courts, the Alameda County coroner and the state of California will evaluate any claims made by the family's attorneys and decide them in a lawful and just manner," he said.

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