Jahi McMath

The tragic case of Jahi McMath continues to spin. Aside from the ethical questions, which are not insignificant, there are pastoral ones. A child suffers cardiac arrest and brain death after a routine minor operation. Medical error or accident? Would a family trust such the same facility to make an end-of-life call? Would anybody reasonably expect that? The family is black. If the administrators white, does the shadow of racism fall across this case, in part? Is a grieving family simply unable to let go? Will legal procedures help any of this?

It would seem that any doctor associated with Children’s Hospital Oakland is too tainted to make the medical call. How else can one hope to communicate an unbiased situation to a family in pain and anger? Why place professionals in potential opposition to either their code of ethics or to the profit interest of a governing corporation?

Parents are not going to want to let go of a child in more ordinary circumstances, let alone when the hospital itself acknowledges they don’t know why the girl had such a severe reaction after surgery.

The McMath family wants to transfer the child to another facility. It seems Children’s Hospital Oakland is putting up a lot of obstacles for someone they believe to be dead:

Children’s Hospital has said it would facilitate the transfer by allowing an outside doctor to fit Jahi with breathing and feeding tubes, but only under certain conditions. The hospital says it needs to speak directly with a new facility to make sure officials there understand Jahi’s status, to confirm there is a lawful medical transportation plan for moving the girl and to verify the coroner has approved the move.

If Jahi McMath is dead, it seems that the coroner is the only person who needs to be consulted. If a coroner confirms death occurred when the hospital says it did, then it would seem that the hospital’s moral and legal liability does not continue past the transfer date. The only tricky thing is if the girl has any hope of recovering. Are the conditions being placed by legal counsel “just in case” the girl wakes up and someone is found to have messed it all up.

I see Terri Schiavo’s family is now involved through their foundation.

Is citizen skepticism of large, faceless, unfeeling corporations justified? Is the marriage of capitalism and medical practice going to raise troubles on expensive issues? It took Michael Schiavo a few years to concede his wife was dead. Her family seems never to have gotten to that point. Is it good that one family feud lives on in new cases such as this one? How are people able to have the tools to discern when it is time to fight and when it is time to let go?

How would I react and decide if it were my daughter involved?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to Jahi McMath

  1. Melody says:

    As a parent, I feel so badly for these people. Something like this is a parent’s worst nightmare; it’s hard to imagine anything else in one’s life which could be this heartbreaking. Complicating matters is a spongy definition of death; is it when the brain ceases all function, or when the heart stops beating? Your point is well taken that “… any doctor associated with Children’s Hospital Oakland is too tainted to make the medical call.” I think it is entirely proper that the family was given an extra week to come to terms. But there comes a point where they will need to make a decision.
    It seems to me that comparison with Terri Schiavo’s case only muddies the water. Jahi’s body is dependent on a respirator to keep her heart and lungs going, she shows no response. Terri was not on a respirator, at least not at the time leading up to her death. She was breathing on her own. She was dependent on a feeding tube, which is true of many disabled people. And her death was caused by dehydration and starvation, a process which as I remember took a couple of weeks.
    The hospital is certainly being less than helpful, it does seem as if they are most interested in covering their own behinds. I think you are right that it is the coroner’s call as to whether death has occurred. A side issue is that the “brain death” definition is used for organ transplant donors. If that isn’t really when death happens, it opens up a whole other can of worms.
    It is interesting that I haven’t seen much in the way of commentary in the Catholic media. As I understand it, removing someone from a respirator under these circumstances would not be against Church teaching.

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