Judge rules girl brain dead after Stanford doctor's opinion

Tuesday a judge ruled 13-year-old Jahi McMath is brain dead after an independent neurologist tested the girl Monday night.
December 24, 2013 8:37:47 PM PST
An Oakland judge ruled Tuesday that 13-year-old Jahi McMath is brain dead under acceptable medical standards following an evaluation from an independent neurologist.

Jahi's family has previously vowed to fight until the end to keep her on life support devices, but on Tuesday they got tough news from an independent doctor and the judge overseeing the case.

The judge decided that Children's Hospital Oakland will not have to keep Jahi on life support, but they do have to wait until December 30 at 5 p.m., which gives the family enough time to appeal the decision and receive a ruling.

This decision essentially came down to the opinion of an independent neurologist who supported what doctors have been telling the family all along -- that Jahi is brain dead.

Doctors at Children's Hospital Oakland say the eighth grader is brain dead following complications after surgery to have her tonsils removed.

Chief of child neurology and director of the Center for Brain and Behavior at Stanford, Dr. Paul Graham Fisher, was appointed to examine the extent of Jahi's brain damage. In his test results taken Monday night, he says Jahi has no response to facial pain, no gag reflexes, no reflexes in her arms or legs, and a complete absence of brain stem and cerebral function.

Despite the ruling, the family says it forced the hospital to provide all of Jahi's medical records and it raised the issue of patient and family rights.

When we asked if the family was given all of the information they were entitled to, Children's Hospital attorney Doug Strauss replied, "With respect to the brain death evaluation, which is the only area that I'm allowed to comment on, absolutely yes." He also added that, "The hospital is not opposed to having the family take Jahi to another facility."

The family is looking into that option.

"What this case represents legally is that parents can say no when a hospital says, 'We're pulling the plug,'" said the family's attorney, Chris Dolan.

Despite the ruling, the family's attorney says this case grabbed the attention of hospitals nationwide and raised some significant legal questions.

"Different people have different values as to what is death. Is it when the heart stops beating? When the brain isn't sending a signal? And that goes all the way back to people who have those same questions at the beginning of life. Before a child can speak in the womb, is it alive or not?" said Dolan.

The battle for Jahi continues, but her family believes they already scored a victory for patient rights.

"It's Christmas Eve and we're going to be spending it with Jahi and we're going to finish wrapping Christmas presents at the hospital and getting ready for tomorrow," said Omari Sealey, Jahi's uncle.

The family plans on filing an appeal as soon as the courts open back up. Meantime, it's looking into the possibility of moving Jahi to another facility. So the way it looks now is that Children's Hospital Oakalnd will not have to keep Jahi on life support after December 30, unless an appeals decision stops that.

A hospital spokesperson says the family also wants the opinion of a professor of pediatrics out of Ohio to be taken into consideration. That professor believes there is no such thing as being brain dead. Lawyers for the hospital are trying to stop the family from including him in the decision making process.

Our sister station KGO-TV San Francisco, CA contributed to this report.

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