Mother of brain-dead Jahi McMath defends ventilator decision

The mother of the 13-year-old girl who became a cause celebre after being declared brain-dead at an Oakland hospital last year defended her decision to keep her daughter on a ventilator, saying the case has brought worldwide attention to her plight.

Citing alleged death threats, Jahi McMath’s family has declined to say where they transferred the teen’s body after she was released by Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland to the county coroner.

Jahi was declared brain-dead Dec. 12 after surgery three days earlier at the hospital to remove her tonsils, adenoids and uvula.

Family members won a court order to keep her on a ventilator, and eventually got permission to transfer her to an undisclosed care facility, despite broad consensus among medical experts that her body will continue to deteriorate.


In a letter posted to Facebook, Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, referred to her critics, saying they helped make her daughter’s experience relevant to people all over the world.

“I also want to thank those who felt the need to go public with their opinions about me and my daughter, positive and even negative,” Winkfield wrote. “It is because of you that my daughter’s experience is so relevant and that people all over the world know who Jahi Mcmath is.”

Medical experts and ethicists have criticized the decision to keep Jahi on a ventilator, saying there is absolutely no chance of recovering from brain death.

Bioethics experts also took issue with news media coverage that often repeated family assertions that the girl was alive, saying it clouded an issue the public already has difficulty grasping.


At least three neurologists confirmed that 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 Winkfield defended her move to keep her daughter on a ventilator, insisting that she has improved physically, even though experts say it isn’t medically possible.

“Hopefully, my daughter can change some of the ways brain death is viewed in today’s society,” Winkfield wrote. “Honestly, I think she already has.”

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 Los Angeles Times.

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