Readers of the Human Life Review may recall my article on brain death, in which I explained why I believe that properly diagnosed, brain dead—e.g., total brain failure—is dead [http://humanlifereview.com/total-brain-failure-death/].
I still do. But recent events in the Jahi McMath tragedy certainly are relevant to that question. Jahi was declared brain dead last year after she suffered extensive bleeding and cardiac arrest following surgery. When Oakland Children’s Hospital told her mother that life support would cease—as permitted by California law—litigation ensued. A judge forced a settlement in which a death certificate was issued, but Jahi, still connected to medical machinery, was transferred to her mother’s care.
We now know that 13-year-old Jahi has been maintained at St. Peter’s Hospital in New Jersey. As I reported on my “Human Exceptionalism” blog at National Review Online, two internationally respected neurologists have now declared under penalty of perjury that Jahi’s condition has improved. More, they opined that she no longer meets the criteria for brain death. In other words, they believe she is alive [see http://www.nationalreview.com/human-exceptionalism/389564/ucla-neurologist-jahi-alive-awake-wesley-j-smith and http://www.nationalreview.com/human-exceptionalism/389774/mri-test-proves-jahi-not-brain-dead-wesley-j-smith].
Improvement after brain death—assuming proper original assessment—is unprecedented in the scientific literature. That alone should be enough for a full-blown dispassionate reexamination by the country’s best brain doctors. But a Stanford neurologist, who examined Jahi last December at the request of the judge, isn’t convinced. Indeed, he isn’t even curious about her situation and doesn’t want to take another look. How disappointing [http://www.nationalreview.com/human-exceptionalism/389932/really-stanford-doc-says-no-jahi-life-wesley-j-smith].
That roadblock means that Jahi remains legally dead and her case in legal limbo; the hearing to have Jahi’s death certificate revoked is on hold to see if her lawyer can provide more evidence.
We shouldn’t have to wait. The integrity of the system, the interests of science, and the fate of a little girl demand more information. The case should be reopened. Now.
—A regular contributor to the Human Life Review, Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant to the Patients Rights Council.