Family Sues to Reverse Brain Dead Declaration


Issues concerning when a person can be taken off life support did not go away when the Terry Schiavo case stopped appearing in the headlines. A current lawsuit in California highlights that the issue is still very much alive.

In December of 2013, then 13-year-old Jahi McMath checked into an Oakland hospital for routine surgery for sleep apnea. Doctors initially believed that the surgery was successful, but complications soon arose.

McMath began bleeding profusely.

She suffered from brain swelling and cardiac arrest. A few days after the surgery, McMath was declared to be brain dead by the doctors. The designation is important as when a person is declared brain dead hospitals are no longer required to provide life support or other treatment.

However, McMath's mother refused to agree to allow her daughter to be taken off life support.

After a court battle a judge agreed with the doctors and declared McMath brain dead. Her mother continued to believe otherwise and quickly arranged for her daughter to be transferred to New Jersey as that state has a religious exemption that allows families to keep brain dead people on life support for religious reasons.

For two years McMath has continued to "live" in New Jersey on life support and her family insists that she shows signs of not being brain dead, but California has refused to remove the designation. Now, her mother has filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding that California be forced to do so.

Courthouse News Service reported this story in "Family Wants Brain-Dead Girl Declared Alive."

What this case highlights is the importance of advanced health care directives, especially living wills. The one person who does not have a say right now regarding whether she remains on life support is McMath. She is a minor so her parents' wishes would take precedence over hers in any case. Adults, however, can avoid these types of situations and make their own decisions by getting living wills as part of their estate plans.

Reference: Courthouse News Service (Dec. 24, 2015) "Family Wants Brain-Dead Girl Declared Alive."

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