If you're looking for insults, you won't find them here. Not this time. This story is too sad, and I can't even bring myself to insult anyone involved, even if it's warranted.
My wife brought this story to my attention after a friend of hers told her about it. It is incredibly tragic, and it makes me sad just thinking about it. What makes it worse is how the family has handled (and is continuing to handle) their awful misfortune. And what makes it worse still is how much misinformation is out there and how little the general public seems to understand the concept of death.
A 13-year old American girl named Jahi McMath went to a hospital in California for a routine adenotonsillectomy, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, and resection of her inferior turbinates for treatment of her obstructive sleep apnea. Shortly after surgery she began bleeding. According to the family she continued to bleed so heavily that she eventually suffered cardiac arrest, and CPR was started. Her heart eventually restarted, but her body apparently had been deprived of oxygen for too long for her brain tissue to survive. An EEG done two days later confirmed everyone's worst fears - the little girl was brain dead. Over the next 24 hours a total of five physicians, two associated with the hospital and three not, confirmed the diagnosis.
Doctors told the family the heartbreaking news, but the family, either choosing not to believe them or not understanding the concept of brain death (or both), did not allow the hospital to take her off life support. Instead, they filed for a temporary restraining order from the court to continue life support. A judge granted the restraining order, and the hospital was forced to continue providing care for the deceased girl. She has been deceased now for 13 days, and yesterday the judge actually inexplicably extended the restraining order by another week while waiting for a sixth opinion. Not surprisingly, the diagnosis of brain death was confirmed yet again today.
Brain death is defined as an irreversible absence of brain function. Unlike all other tissue, the central nervous system (comprised of the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord) does not have the capacity to heal or regenerate. Once it is dead, it stays dead. As long as a brain dead patient is kept on a ventilator, the heart will still beat, the lungs will still function, the kidneys will still make urine, and muscle reflexes will still exist. But without brain function, the person is gone. Physiologically it is the same as cardiac death where the heart stops and all organs then fail. "Brain dead" is physiologically (and legally) exactly the same as "dead". And no court order can change that.
As a father, I can certainly understand how devastated the family is over the shocking, unexpected loss of an innocent little girl after what was supposed to be a routine surgery. But after reading numerous articles about the story, it has become clear that the family does not understand the concept of brain death, nor does a large segment of the population. "Despite what they say, she is alive. I can touch her, she is warm," her mother said. "With air she lives, her heart beats, her kidneys produce urine, she is warm and soft." The family staged a rally in front of the hospital, chanting "Keep Jahi alive! Keep Jahi alive!" There is a Facebook page (KeepJahiMcmathOnLifeSupport) with hundreds of comments by people who clearly don't understand that she is dead and are expecting her to wake up and walk out of the hospital.
No. As unspeakably depressing as it is, she is not alive, and she has not been for almost two weeks. She is warm and her kidneys function because her heart is pumping oxygenated blood through her. Her blood is oxygenated because a machine is breathing for her. But a beating heart does not equal life. This is not the 15th century - we know that the heart is just a muscular pump, and it does not determine the person; the brain does. And as sad as the situation is, the hospital obviously has no obligation to continue treating a deceased patient. The family's lawyer said, "It is our position that no doctor determination can end a life without parental consent." This is utter rubbish. The doctors did not determine when her life ended - all they did is confirm her death using a battery of tests.
Reading comments on some of the articles is even more disheartening. There are countless commenters who think the hospital is just trying to "pull the plug" and get rid of her. Several have even suggested the hospital is trying to get rid of evidence of wrongdoing. Many other commenters say that the girl should be kept on life support because "miracles" happen, and there are instances of people declared "brain dead" waking up.
I have been unable to find a single article in a reputable medical journal anywhere in the world that documents an actual brain-dead patient waking up. I suspect that every instance, including those on organfacts.net and lifesitenews.com, involves confabulation and confusion about the diagnosis. Many people equate brain death with a coma or a persistent vegetative state, but the three are not remotely the same. People can wake up from a coma. But brain death equals death.
Medical science has not advanced to where a deceased person can be brought back to life, no matter how many times we read "Frankenstein" and want it to be so. The hospital has been more than accommodating to a distraught family, but "life support" is for the living. As a father, I wish I could give this family a hug. As a physician, I wish I could sit down with them and explain why Jahi will never wake up. My heart goes out to them, but this grieving family needs to understand and let go, and their little girl needs to be laid to rest.
There is much more to this story, and it continues to evolve on a daily basis. I will update this and continue posting as the situation changes.