Jahi McMath family attorney: ‘They are not fools. They know the odds’

Christopher Dolan, attorney for Nailah Winkfield, mother of Jahi McMath, speaks during a court hearing in Oakland on Dec. 23, 2013.
Christopher Dolan, attorney for Nailah Winkfield, mother of Jahi McMath, speaks during a court hearing in Oakland on Dec. 23, 2013.
(Kristopher Skinner / Associated Press)

The attorney for the family of Jahi McMath is defending their actions in a new op-ed that criticizes “self-righteous commenters” and praises the 13-year-old brain-dead girl’s mother for her courage despite “incendiary, hateful public rhetoric.”

The op-ed by San Francisco attorney Christopher Dolan, published in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, comes after medical ethicists and physicians have criticized the decision to keep Jahi on a ventilator despite her being declared brain dead on Dec. 12 -- a decision affirmed by at least three neurologists.

Medical experts have said the decision to allow the family to transfer the girl from Children’s Hospital Oakland to an undisclosed facility has only perpetuated misconceptions of brain death that have dogged the Jahi case since her family went public.


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Neurologists told an Alameda County Superior Court judge that Jahi was unable to breathe on her own, had no blood flow to her brain and had no sign of electrical activity three days after she underwent surgery Dec. 9 to remove her tonsils, adenoids and uvula at Children’s Hospital Oakland and went into cardiac arrest, causing extensive hemorrhaging in her brain.

The judge issued an order keeping Jahi on a ventilator until her body could first be transferred to the county coroner, and then to a private facility.

Dolan, though, has been widely criticized as having fed false hope to the McMath family that somehow their daughter -- who was issued a death certificate by the Alameda County coroner -- will recover.

PHOTOS: The Jahi McMath case

In his op-ed, Dolan hit back, contending that those who have “attacked” Jahi’s family do so arguing several “simplistic, uninformed points: The family is either stupid, misled by their lawyer or trying to exploit the system.”

He noted that elsewhere in the U.S., such as New Jersey, there are personal religious exemptions for those who object to brain death, suggesting Jahi’s case would not have been such a spectacle had it occurred there.


But experts point out that the money the McMath family received from supporters to transfer their daughter will eventually run out, and no amount of artificial help will stop Jahi’s body from decomposing.

Bodies of the brain-dead have been maintained on respirators for months or, in rare cases, years. However, once cessation of all brain activity is confirmed, there is no recovery, said Rebecca S. Dresser, professor of law and ethics in medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, to The Times.

Even so, Dolan wrote that the McMath family “are not fools.”

“They know the odds,” he wrote. “They want time, free from the threats of the hospital to pull the plug.”

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