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Consumer group's fundraising appeal citing Jahi McMath stirs anger

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An advocacy group is facing criticism for citing the case of Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old girl declared-brain dead last month after a complex tonsillectomy in Oakland, to solicit donations for a campaign to raise a state-imposed cap on medical malpractice awards.

Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog sent out a fundraising appeal saying that, because of the $250,000 cap on pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, hospitals have an incentive "to let children like Jahi die."

Jahi was declared brain-dead Dec. 12, three days after undergoing surgery to remove her tonsils, adenoids and uvula at Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland. At least three neurologists confirmed Jahi was unable to breathe on her own, had no blood flow to her brain and had no sign of electrical activity.

In its fundraising message emailed late last month, Consumer Watchdog argued that if children who are "victims of medical negligence live, hospitals are on the hook for medical bills for life, which could be millions," according to a copy obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. Hospitals then have an incentive to take them off ventilators, the group argues, since a $250,000 payout is relative bargain.

The email's subject line was "Christmas miracle."

A spokesman for Children's Hospital Oakland, Sam Singer, told KTVU-TV that the message was "the most shameful and shameless political mailer I have seen in my career."

Even the attorney representing the McMath family, Christopher Dolan, who supports lifting the cap, told local media he did not condone using Jahi to score political points or raise money.

Dolan is a board member for Consumer Attorneys of California, the main group funding a campaign to lift medical malpractice awards cap.

"This case is not about raising money for any type of initiative," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It was about getting [Jahi's mother] the right to make choices over the life-and-death decisions concerning her child."

After a prolonged court and public relations battle, the family finally won permission to move Jahi's body, still attached to a ventilator, to an undisclosed facility after first being transferred to and released from the Alameda County coroner.

Despite claims from Dolan that Jahi's body is being cared for, experts have declared in court that the deterioration of her body is now the only possible course once her brain has shut down.

Brain cells die without blood flow and autopsies in such cases have shown the brain liquefies. 

The courts have so far agreed that Jahi is dead. The coroner Friday issued a death certificate listing Dec. 12 as the date of death.

Earlier in the week, Dolan conceded that Jahi's body was in "very bad shape."

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