Jahi McMath declared brain-dead, but family can still fight

Nailah Winkfield, mother of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, cries before a courtroom hearing regarding McMath, on Dec. 20, 2013, in Oakland.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

A 13-year-old Oakland girl declared brain-dead due to complications from a tonsillectomy earlier this month remained on life support Wednesday.

An Alameda County judge on Tuesday declared Jahi McMath brain-dead but gave her family time to appeal the ruling.

Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo told relatives of the girl that they can file an appeal to his decision.

Soon after Jahi had her tonsils removed at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland on Dec. 9, the eighth-grader went into cardiac arrest and the flow of oxygen to her brain was cut off.


She was declared brain-dead after three tests showed there was no “cerebral activity,” according to court records.

Although doctors at the hospital have said Jahi’s condition is irreversible, her family obtained a court order to keep her on a ventilator until an outside expert could be brought in.

Paul Graham Fisher, a Stanford pediatric neuro-oncologist appointed to review Jahi’s case, affirmed in court Tuesday that the girl met all criteria for being brain-dead. Anticipating the finding, the hospital had submitted a petition asking to remove Jahi from the ventilator.

In the court papers, the hospital argued that because Jahi is dead, “practically and legally,” there is no course of medical treatment to administer.

“To be blunt, Children’s is merely preserving Ms. McMath’s body from the natural postmortem course of events,” attorneys for the hospital said. “There is no legal, ethical or moral requirement that it continue to do so or that the family consent in the decision to stop doing so.”

After another round of testimony from doctors affirming their findings, Grillo agreed that Jahi met the medical standard for bring brain-dead, but left the order to keep her on a ventilator in place until Dec. 30 to give family members time to prepare an appeal, something local media reported was being planned.

Hospital administrators, citing patient privacy laws, have declined to discuss details of the case, but have said Jahi’s family and friends have perpetuated “misperceptions” about her condition.

Jahi’s supporters have called the hospital callous in pushing to take Jahi off a ventilator.


“I’m her mother. I’m going to support her. It’s my job to do it. Any mother would do it,” Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, said in an interview with CNN’s “The Lead” on Monday. “I just want her to have more time. There are so many stories of people waking up in her situation.”


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