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Parents and hospital to meet today to select independent doctor to evaluate condition of girl said to be “brain dead”

by | Dec 23, 2013


By Dave Andrusko

Nailah Winkfield speaks to reporters outside Oakland Children's Hospital.

Nailah Winkfield speaks to reporters outside Oakland Children’s Hospital.

When we last reported on the case of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, her family and officials from the Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland were in a tense battle over the family’s determination to keep her on a ventilator and to obtain a second independent opinion whether Jahi was indeed “brain dead” following a routine tonsillectomy December 9. (See “Family of girl declared ‘brain-dead’ asks for outside neurologist and that Jahi McMath be given a feeding tube”)

On Friday Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo agreed with the parents, issuing a temporary restraining order that prevented the hospital from taking Jahi off a ventilator. As this update is being posted, the family and hospital officials are expected to appear in Judge Grillo’s court with the name of a doctor from a list of five names jointly agreed to on Friday. He or she could examine Jahi as early as this week, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

As bioethicist Wesley J. Smith noted in his column, Judge Grillo said, “The statute says there’s a right to have this reviewed by the independent physician”; and that the hospital had been withholding Jahi’s medical records from the family. (The hospital said on Friday it would turn over the documents.)

According to Henry Lee of the Chronicle, the family attorney told Judge Grillo

“’This child is warm. She is soft to the touch,’ Christopher Dolan said. ‘If you rub her foot, her foot curls in. The mother has yelled in her ear, and the daughter has lifted up her arms.’

“’By contrast, ‘the hospital is addressing the child as if she is dead already,’ Dolan said. ‘Their position is she’s dead. There is no treatment that she’s entitled to.’”

“On Sunday, a group of faith leaders sent a letter to the Alameda County district attorney’s office requesting a formal investigation into what happened to Jahi,” according to Jason Wells of the Los Angeles Times. The family will hold a march and rally today.

In an open letter issued Saturday, Nailah Winkfield, Jahi’s mother, alleged that the hospital had been “pressuring me to ‘pull the plug.'”

“I can’t. I won’t,” she wrote. “I can’t let them kill my baby a second time.”

While expressing sympathy for Jahi and her family, the hospital said in a court memorandum that it has no duty to maintain life support. In a statement issued to the media Sunday, Dr. David Durand, the hospital’s chief of pediatrics, said “As medical professionals, it is our responsibility to ensure that we don’t create hope where there is none.” He added, “When one’s brain ceases to function, it never restarts.”

As we noted last, according to CNN Jahi’s routine surgery initially appeared to go well.

“But Jahi was then moved to the intensive-care unit, and her relatives were denied access to the eighth-grader for 30 minutes; when they finally were allowed to see her, they knew something was wrong. “Upon entry, they saw that there was way too much blood” [Sandy Chatman, Jahi’s grandmother who is a nurse] said.

“We kept asking, ‘Is this normal?’” [uncle Omari] Sealey said. “Some nurses said, ‘I don’t know,’ and some said, ‘Yes.’ There was a lot of uncertainty and a lack of urgency.”

“Sealey said that when Chatman noticed that her granddaughter’s oxygen levels were dangerously low, she called for help.

“But Jahi went into cardiac arrest. The medical staff performed chest compressions to revive her and gave her clotting medications, but nothing worked.”

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