Jahi McMath: Family wants honorary diploma for brain-dead teen

The family of Jahi McMath -- the Oakland girl who, at 13, was declared brain-dead last year after complex surgery to remove her tonsils -- is lobbying her school to issue an honorary diploma.

Jahi was an eighth-grader at E.C. Reems Academy of Technology and Arts when she underwent surgery in December to remove her tonsils, adenoids and uvula at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland. After three days of complications, she was declared brain-dead.

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 her brain, but her family eventually won permission in court to move her body to an undisclosed facility, where she could be kept on a ventilator.

With her class now preparing to graduate Friday, the family is reportedly asking that Jahi be remembered at the ceremony with an honorary diploma. But her uncle, Omari Sealey, posted a message Tuesday on his social media accounts saying school officials were resistant because they had received “too many complaints” about displaying anything regarding Jahi.


He later told Bay Area news outlets that trustees of the public charter school planned to discuss the family’s request and make a decision in time for the ceremony.

Jahi’s family has not disclosed the exact condition of her body since she was moved to an undisclosed facility. In interviews, Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, has described her as being “asleep.”

She told KNTV-TV in March that she refused to believe her daughter was brain-dead.

“I don’t use the word ‘brain dead’ for my daughter. I’m just waiting and faithful that she will have a recovery,” Winkfield said. “She is blossoming into a teenager before my eyes.”


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, Rebecca S. Dresser, professor of law and ethics in medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Times.

And, according to a U.S. District Court declaration from Dr. Heidi Flori, a critical care physician at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland, which had sought to remove the teen from the ventilator, Jahi’s body will inevitably deteriorate, “regardless of any heroic measures that any facility in the country might attempt.”

For news as it happens in California, follow @JasonBretWells.