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Hospital says conditions must be met for Jahi McMath's transfer

OAKLAND — After an eleventh-hour court order was issued that will keep 13-year-old Jahi McMath on a ventilator until Jan. 7, a hospital spokesman said the facility will work with the family to help transfer the girl to nursing care — if three conditions are met.

Sam Singer, who was retained by Children's Hospital Oakland to address the wrenching case of the teenager, deemed brain-dead by six physicians, said the family must find an outside physician willing to insert breathing and feeding tubes, a way to transport her, and a facility that is willing to accept "a deceased person."

The McMath family lawyer had said that three facilities since Friday had expressed a willingness to accept Jahi. But Singer said "this hospital has had no substantive conversations with any of them."

Singer spoke to a bank of cameras shortly after a temporary restraining order to keep Jahi on a ventilator was extended through 5 p.m. on Jan. 7. He said the hospital will comply with the order while its attorneys "attempt to deal with this in court."

According to the family, two West Coast facilities that had expressed interest in taking Jahi quickly withdrew their offers but an unidentified New York facility is willing to accept her.

Jahi suffered heavy bleeding, cardiac arrest and "whole brain death" — defined as an irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem — on Dec. 12, three days after complex tonsillectomy surgery.

Two hospital physicians and three outside doctors requested by the family deemed her brain-dead, court records show, and the county coroner was notified of the death. But the family protested the hospital's intention to remove Jahi from a ventilator.

An independent physician named by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo last week corroborated the determination that Jahi is legally dead, saying that testing showed no blood flow to the brain, no ability to breathe without the ventilator and no sign of electrical activity.

Jahi's uncle, Omari Sealey, told reporters late in the afternoon that the family has now contracted with the New York facility and arranged for medical transport. But Singer said documentation indicating that the facility will accept her appears "faulty."

There is broad medical and legal consensus that whole brain death constitutes one of two legal definitions of death. A Harvard Medical School committee first put forth the standard in 1968 and in 1981 a presidential council proposed a uniform statute to be adopted nationwide.

It was endorsed by the American Medical Assn., the American Bar Assn., and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, which published it as the Uniform Determination of Death Act. California has such a statute. Another presidential council that took up the issue in 2008 reaffirmed that “whole brain death” is legal death.

However, in their petition for an emergency stay in the state Court of Appeal, the mother and guardian of Jahi McMath contend that the act, as codified in state law, violates her freedom of religion and privacy under the California Constitution.

Singer said the hospital disagrees with that as well as with a separate assertion that Jahi McMath has a "right to life" under federal law.

"The hospital continues to give its deepest condolences to the family and we hope they can come to terms with the death of Jahi McMath," he said. 

The family maintains that Jahi is not dead and that she moved her leg and other parts of her body recently.

"I'm so relieved," her great-aunt Monicia Spears, 51, of Hercules said of the extended restraining order outside the hospital Monday evening. "If she is dead, why is her heart beating. Why is her body moving?"

Singer said the hospital has not been authorized by the family to comment on Jahi's medical condition but that in similar cases patients deemed brain-dead can show movement via a phenomenon called the Lazarus reflex or Lazarus sign.

The hospital had increased security staffing Monday and placed barricades outside the entrance. Singer said the measures were taken to ensure other patients and families access to the hospital despite expected crowds in support of Jahi and a large media presence.

Spears, however, said hospital officials were limiting the number of family members who could be in Jahi's room at any one time "because they thought we were going to go off. But that is not us. That's not our family. All we are doing is praying."

 

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Twitter @leeromney

lee.romney@latimes.com

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