Jahi McMath: A Precious Living Human Being

January 3, 2014 - 1:53 PM

A young child’s life is threatened. Her family is devastated and suffering. Imagine the possibility of losing a child—something no family should ever go through. And then imagine having to fight in court for her life. Today’s commentary explains what happened next.

Imagine your child going to a hospital for routine surgery and then suffering from unforeseen complications that threaten to take her life. This nightmare became reality when Jahi McMath, a young girl of only 13, went in for surgery to help end her sleep apnea. Jahi’s doctor had suggested that her condition would benefit from a tonsillectomy, so her mother scheduled the surgical procedure.

What happened after that is a nightmare not only for Jahi’s mother, but by extension for every parent who could just as easily witness a simple surgery for their child go terribly wrong. On December 9, Jahi awoke from the surgery bleeding from the mouth and went into cardiac arrest. On December 12, she was declared “brain dead.”

On Tuesday, December 24, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo confirmed the diagnosis of brain death based on the examinations of two physicians, each of whom spent several hours examining Jahi in order to confirm the diagnosis. Grillo ruled that the child could be removed from life support, but gave Jahi’s family until December 30 to file an appeal. That appeal was filed, and now, Jahi’s family has until January 7 to either arrange for her to be moved to another facility, or she will be starved to death.

The family’s plan is to move Jahi to a facility in New York, but she will have to have a tracheostomy procedure immediately to assist her in breathing so that she can be given the chance she needs to live and improve.

As one news report explains:

The family’s attorney, Christopher Dolan, said the hospital is denying the girl a tracheostomy tube that is required to transfer her to another site. Without the tracheostomy tube, no site will accept her for long-term care, and she will die, Dolan said.

“It is clear to me that Children’s is placing impediments in our way,” Dolan said Tuesday. “A trach and feeding tube—everything she needs to stay alive—they’ve stripped from her.”

As the family presses on trying to locate a principled physician who will perform the surgical procedure that would help this little girl have the chance to breathe and hopefully improve, we are left with searing questions about the state of health care in America and the slipshod manner in which avoidable medical emergencies are treated once they do occur.

Do decision makers at Children’s Hospital Oakland honestly believe that palliating Jahi while she starves to death is their version of humane treatment for a patient whose condition is not terminal? Are Jahi’s organs perceived to be more valuable for transplant than affirming the intrinsic worth of this child’s life regardless of her condition?

What exactly is the agenda at Children’s Hospital Oakland?

One can surmise the answer based on statements the hospital and its spokespersons have already made. The hospital’s public statement earlier this week begins with these words: “Children’s Hospital Oakland continues to support the family of Jahi McMath in this time of grief and loss over her death.” Death?

Add to that the statement made on Wednesday by hospital spokesperson Sam Singer: “What the family attorney is demanding is for surgery to be done, for anesthesia to be applied to someone who is deceased, that’s just not done.”

CORRECTION: Jahi is not dead!

Let us hope and pray and work to ensure that this child receives the emergency surgical assistance she needs in order to breathe so that she can be moved to a place where the living are acknowledged as precious for their own sake alone.