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Opinion

The sad saga of Jahi

Nailah Winkfield
Nailah Winkfield attends a court hearing in December to discuss the medical treatment of her daughter, Jahi McMath, who was declared brain-dead after suffering complications from a tonsillectomy.
(Kristopher Skinner / Contra Costa Times / Associated Press)

The tragic story of Jahi McMath — the 13-year-old girl who was declared brain dead after undergoing surgery last month and whose parents insist on keeping attached to life support — is that rare news event with absolutely no positive angle, no silver lining. Similarly, the experience of reading and editing the letters on the story was gut-wrenching.

A few readers had nasty comments for the parents (their letters didn’t run), and others directed their anger at the lawyers and other interests seeking to influence Jahi’s family. But most readers expressed sympathy and compassion for the parents while encouraging them to acknowledge the painful fact that their daughter will not recover.

—Paul Thornton, letters editor

Michael E. White of Burbank says the grief and healing must begin:

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“With all due sympathy to McMath’s family: Jahi is dead. She does not belong in a nursing hospital with only her flesh kept alive. Her mind has gone.

“Letting go is difficult, especially the small, warm hands of children you have brought into the world. There is nothing fair about it. But healing can’t begin as long as she is attached to machines.

“It is a tragedy to lose your daughter in this way. But using artificial means to push blood through her veins and pump air into her lungs prolongs a screaming pain that only time can mercifully temper.”

Elizabeth Lane of Claremont wonders who is paying for Jahi’s care:

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“Jahi’s parents refuse to let the plug be pulled on their daughter. They are hoping for a miracle to restore her.

“While many of us don’t believe in such miracles, we can sympathize with the mother, who wants answers to what went wrong with her daughter.

“Unfortunately, that cannot be determined except by autopsy.

“Jahi was transferred from the hospital to a facility that will care for her and keep her on a ventilator. This care, no doubt, comes at astronomical costs.

“The elephant in the room is the question of who will pay for all of this. It’s likely, then, that the final arbiter in all this won’t be religious faith but money. Why am I not surprised?

“In this tragic case, I do wonder what Jahi herself would have wanted: to be kept helpless on that ventilator, or to be mercifully let go?”

Robert S. Henry of Alhambra declares emphatically that Jahi is alive:

“Jahi’s family is right: There is no muddle. Alive is alive and dead is dead.

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“There is a simple test. Jahi’s heart is kept beating by a machine. Go out to the graveyard, dig up a corpse and start his or her heart beating with a machine. If you can do so, then and only then will I concede that Jahi is also dead.

“Obviously, you can’t. Death is total, and no machine can keep any part of a dead person functioning. If a machine can do so, then the person is not dead. Let’s not get cute.”

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