Jahi McMath, Teen at Center of Legal Battle and Controversy Over Brain Death Diagnosis, Dies

Jahi McMath, the teenage girl who had been at the center of a five-year debate on whether or not her condition met the clinical definition of brain death, has died following complications from liver failure.

According to reports, McMath was recently removed from life support after suffering internal bleeding that stemmed from her liver condition. She died on June 22, the family attorney announced in a press release on Friday. McMath’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, continues to contend that her daughter was alive up until this point, and was not dead as was declared by doctors five years ago.

“My daughter died on June 22, 2018, not December 12, 2013,” she said in a statement. “The doctors who were treating her at the time of her death state that she died of complications of liver failure. Nowhere does it reference brain death. They acknowledge a prior brain injury, but don’t try and call her brain dead.”

Winkfield stated that she was devastated to lose her daughter, but felt that she did all she could for her.

“I don’t regret fighting for my daughter’s life. This journey has been long and difficult. I left a good paying job at Home Depot, cashed out all of my savings, sold my house and most of my belongings so that we could stay in New Jersey as a family,” she said. “… People can say whatever they want about me, but what no one will ever say is that I gave up on my daughter. I never gave up. No one can say why didn’t you do this or that, I did everything that any human could. I would do it all over again if I had the choice.”

As previously reported, the matter began in December 2013 when a then 13-year-old McMath underwent a recommended operation on her tonsils, adenoids and soft palate at Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland to help alleviate her sleep apnea.

But her uncle, Omari Sealey, said that the girl was apprehensive even before going under the knife.

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“The worst thing about all of this is that Jahi told my sister, ‘I don’t want to get this surgery; something bad is going to happen. I’m not going to wake up,’” he told CNN.

McMath reportedly asked for a popsicle following the procedure, advising that her throat hurt. But soon after, the girl’s family knew that something was terribly wrong.

“When she got moved to ICU, there was a 30-minute wait until any family member could go see her,” her grandmother, Sandy Chapman, told reporters. “Upon entry, they saw that there was way too much blood.”

“She had to have four blood transfusions. She had two liters of blood pumped out of her lungs, not including what was in her stomach,” she continued. “There was an enormous amount of blood, and we kept asking, ‘Is this normal?’ Some nurses said, ‘I don’t know,’ and some said, ‘Yes.’ There was a lot of uncertainty and a lack of urgency.”

When McMath’s oxygen levels then began to fall dangerously low, Chapman called for help. The girl later went into cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead. Days later, doctors pronounced her legally dead and sought to take her off life support.

McMath’s family took the matter to court, and reached an agreement to transfer McMath out of the hospital and to New Jersey, where objection to brain death diagnoses can be made on religious grounds. Winkfield has been caring for her daughter for the past four years and provided video footage to the public showing her daughter responding to commands to exemplify her belief that her daughter was not brain dead.

Family attorney Christopher Dolan said that good has come out of McMath’s case as the situation may lead to the protection of parental rights surrounding brain death diagnoses.

“Jahi’s case has led to the development of a body of law proclaiming that parents have the right to challenge a hasty brain death diagnosis that is often made during the moments of severe trauma before a brain has had an opportunity to recover just so that money can be saved and organs harvested,” he said in a statement. “Doctors should not be able to play God and decide who lives and who dies based on their ideas of what is best or what is the best use of resources. Life is precious, and this is a slippery slope.”

Dolan added that “the fight to hold the negligent doctors who allowed Jahi to suffer a severe brain injury will continue in the Superior Court of Alameda through a wrongful death action now Jahi has died.”

Read the statement in full here.

The Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network also issued a statement advising that it is advocating for the revision of brain death criteria as it pertains to those who are minimally conscious or in a severe coma.

“At present, to be ruled brain dead means that you’re considered dead and all insurance and medical support immediately stops,” said President Bobby Schindler. “Jahi lived for nearly five years after being declared dead thanks to the love and care of her mother. The way that Jahi, Nailah, and her family were treated by some physicians since 2013 has been a scandal; a case study in the human cost of elitist and bureaucratic disregard for a patient who needed care.”

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