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Jahi McMath to remain on ventilator, but her fate remains unclear

By Lee Romney

6:15 AM PST, December 31, 2013

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An eleventh-hour court order to keep 13-year-old Jahi McMath on a ventilator until Jan. 7 was greeted by her mother as an answer to her prayers, but the fate of the girl still remains uncertain.

Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, wept outside the hospital after hearing that an Alameda County judge had extended the order about an hour before it was set to expire Monday. She told reporters assembled outside that she considered it an answer to her prayers.

"Who wants to know the date and the time their child would die?'' Winkfield told NBC Bay Area and other media outlets. "I don't care what anyone has to say about what I'm doing. ... I have to do what is right for me and for Jahi.''

PHOTOS: The Jahi McMath case

Jahi's family has reached out to several facilities in the hope that they will accept the girl, but 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 "this hospital has had no substantive conversations with any of them."

Even if a facility agrees to take the girl in, Singer said three conditions must be met. 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," he said.

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.

RELATED: Jahi McMath is brain dead; hopes for life are futile, experts say

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 in her brain.

Jahi's uncle, Omari Sealey, told reporters late in Monday 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 the girl appears "faulty."

Meanwhile, experts in medical and legal ethics have said that the hospital must remain steadfast in its refusal to perform any procedures on what is legally considered to be a corpse. 

“I think they have to be adamant that they will not begin any new technology on a corpse,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. “If they don’t, I think it’s disrespectful to the dead in a fundamental way, and it opens the floodgates for other people to say, 'Oh, you don’t really know when we’re dead, do you? So please make more efforts for my loved ones.'"

The attorney representing Jahi's family told local media Monday that he knows he has been widely criticized by some for stoking a false sense of hope, but maintained that he was fighting "for the right of parents to direct the healthcare of their child and for them to make the choice.''

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lee.romney@latimes.com

Twitter: @leeromney