Saturday 18 January 2014
Jahi McMath Misconceptions and Twitter
Up until a few weeks ago, I thought Twitter was the stupidest idea ever. Microblogging? Really?? Think about it, what can you really say in 140 characters or less? As it is, you can barely get one idea through. Then if you start responding to multiple people, your ability to communicate is even more limited. And if you dare use hashtags, your character count dwindles to near zero, and you have resort to things like saying "u" or "ppl". I'd rather stick hot pokers in my genitals than say "u".
Regardless, having engaged in several Twitter brawls (a few still ongoing), I can definitively say that Twitter is, in fact, the stupidest idea ever. Yet I find myself continuing to try to argue with (and educate) several ignorant individuals who, for reasons known only to them, seem hell-bent not only on ignoring facts and ethics but also on denying science. But arguing on Twitter is next-to-impossible, partly because of the character limit. But the main reason is that anyone can get a Twitter account, especially people whose sole intent is to malign, abuse, and insult. And as I've seen firsthand, 140 characters is plenty when your goal is either to foment mischief, spread malinformation, or both.
Having said that, I'd like to use this opportunity to expound some of what I've said while trying (in 140 characters or less) to battle the nonsense I've come across on Twitter and comment threads on the various Jahi McMath stories I've read. Which is pretty much all of them.
1) Brain death is not full-body death. The body is still alive.
This is a very simple mistake to make, but it is no less a mistake than eating potato salad that's been out for several hours on a hot summer day. The body sure does look alive, it's warm, and the heart is beating. But the body is just functioning, not alive. It may seem a fine distinction, but there is a world of difference between a body that is merely functional and a live person. You can argue that a bacterium is alive despite not having a brain. I would counterargue that a tree is also alive despite not having a brain. The fact is humans are different. We have personalities, our consciousness, our humanity. That lives in the brain and nowhere else.
2) The brain can recover and heal.
From an injury, yes. From death, no. Dead brain cells remain dead forever. No amount of prayer, hope, or time ever can change that.
3) It is not illegal to have a brain dead patient on a ventilator, so Jahi's family isn't doing anything wrong.
It isn't illegal to put a doll on a ventilator either. For that matter it isn't illegal to stand on your head naked and sing "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cryus. But why would you? All of those things lead to the same thing: no benefit whatsoever, and everyone thinking you're insane.
4) Jahi's family isn't hurting anyone, so what they are doing isn't unethical.
First, they are hurting themselves by refusing to accept and deal with reality. The lasting memories they will have of Jahi will not be of the beautiful, vibrant 13-year old girl they once knew, but rather of the brain-dead, unresponsive girl lying in a hospital bed with a machine pumping air in and out of her every few seconds. The memory of her voice and laughter will be drowned out by the sounds of the ventilator.
The second (and infinitely more damaging) harm is that this gives other families the idea that what Jahi's family is doing is somehow normal or ok. The consequentialist theory of normative ethics states that an action is moral if the consequences of that action are more favourable than unfavourable. For those of you still awake after reading that bit of soporific academic drivel, it's entirely obvious that keeping dead people on ventilators serves no reasonable purpose, other than preventing families from ever having to let go, which is the ultimate act of selfishness.
5) Jahi's family had to fight to have her removed from CHO, which was trying to block them from leaving, which violates their rights.
Another very common misconception. Except for psychiatric patients who are involuntarily held because they present a threat to themselves or others, patients cannot be kept in hospital against their will. Jahi's family could have taken her from the hospital at any time, but there was no facility willing to take her in her current state. Her family was trying to compel the hospital to place a tracheostomy and feeding tube, because the hospital correctly felt it was unethical to perform surgical procedures on a dead patient and refused. The court would not force the hospital to perform the procedures, and ultimately the two sides reached an agreement that the hospital would release Jahi's body to her mother's care. There was never an order from the court forcing the hospital to release her.
6) Jahi's doctors tried to force their opinions and will on her family.
The doctors only had their patient's and her family's best interest in mind. After she was declared dead, they allowed several days for the family to congregate and for a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis. Obviously the family, denying logic and reason, disagreed with what was in their best interest. It seems obvious that if the doctors had forced their will, Jahi would have been taken off the machines and buried weeks ago.
7) Her family does not agree with the legal definition of death, so they have the right to challenge it.
I've seen this argument several times, and on the surface it may seem to make sense. However, if I say I disagree with the legal definition of stealing, does that allow me to take a Bugatti Veyron? At least 6 physicians confirmed the diagnosis, and simply disagreeing that Jahi is dead does not bring her back to life.
8) People who are legally blind have some sight, so legally dead people have some life.
Before you say anything, yes someone actually said this. Of all the arguments I've seen, this is by far the most preposterous (and funniest). There is no such thing as "legally dead". You are either dead or you are alive. Death by neurological criteria is the same as death by cardiac criteria. And Jahi, unfortunately, is dead.
On another note, Paul Byrne wrote another piece on renewamerica.com, where he states that Jahi has regained the ability to regulate her core body temperature, a function of the hypothalamus (which is part of the "primitive brain" and controls thermoregulation, hunger, thirst, and the circadian rhythm). This "fact" has been corroborated by exactly no one, and I can do nothing but question its validity based on the source. This will firmly remain in the "Unsubstantiated Rumours" category until it is verified.
One final note: this will probably be my last post pertaining to the tragic story of Miss McMath. I've taken enough time (both yours and mine) trying to educate, inform, and correct misconceptions. After this I plan on returning to my stupid stories, stupidly starting with a stupid story about stupid me. For those of you who found me via Jahi, I hope you'll follow along with me and continue to share my tiny corner of the Internet. If you choose not to, then FINE! I DIDN'T WANT YOU TO ANYWAY!
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