NRL News

Jahi McMath dies June 22, posthumous report says she improved after she was declared brain-dead

by | Jul 5, 2018

By Dave Andrusko

Jahi McMath and her mother, Nailah Winkfield

Jahi McMath, the teenager at the heart of a determined and courageous fight waged by her parents against a brain-death diagnosis , passed away June 22 at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., “of bleeding due to liver failure and a brain injury caused by lack of oxygen,” according to reporter Lisa M. Krieger who has followed the case for years.

Jahi will be buried Friday at a Mount Eden Cemetery in Hayward, New Jersey. But there is much yet to be resolved.

For one thing, Krieger reports that there are two ongoing lawsuits over Jahi’s death: “a federal civil rights case to nullify her original 2013 death certificate and replace it with a new one issued June 22, and a malpractice case against Children’s Hospital Oakland over a tonsillectomy that her family said was done improperly.”

As NRL News Today reported on multiple occasions, a titanic struggle ensued when following surgery in 2013 to remove her tonsils, adenoids, soft pallet and uvula as well as work performed on the inside of her nose, Jahi went into cardiac arrest.

Three days later, the hospital insisted the-then 13-year-old Jahi was brain dead. Her family immediately challenged that diagnosis and the hospital’s decision to take Jahi off a ventilator.

After a lengthy court battle, they secured the right to move Jahi to New Jersey. The Garden State provides “a religious exception to families whose loved ones are declared brain dead, but whose heart and blood continue to pump through life support machines.”

For another thing, as Krieger reported earlier this week

Coming just days after the announcement of her death, a newly released Harvard Medical School summary says that Jahi McMath’s brain showed subtle signs of improvement over the five-year span following the original declaration that she was brain-dead — suggesting a legal “resurrection” from death to life and challenging our widely held understanding of what it means to be officially dead.

The hotly contested battle illuminated what Krieger described as “a little-known fact:

“Brain death” is an important legal term, but the underlying biology may be far less decisive.

Its impact could reverberate through mainstream medicine for years to come, because science is advancing much faster than the courts or legislature, said doctors and bioethicists.

“The law tends to favor bright line distinctions — yes or no, black or white, no in-between,” said Dr. Robert Truog, director of the Harvard Center for Bioethics, who organized the conference. Held in April, its proceedings were released immediately after Jahi’s death.

By improving, Jahi crossed that bright line. Clinically, that’s not all that surprising, said doctors. That’s because, unlike law, “biology tends to involve a continuous spectrum. Brain injury also occurs on a spectrum,” and subtle changes can be detected by ever-improving diagnostic tools, he said.

“By having some degree of improvement in her functioning, legally she’s gone from being in the ‘dead’ portion to being in the ‘alive’ portion,” Truog said. “That’s an important thing for us to grapple with.”

Categories: Brain Death