RELATIVES of an American girl declared brain dead after complications from a tonsillectomy have lost their bid to prevent a hospital turning off her life-support machine without their consent.
A judge in Oakland, California, declared that 13-year-old Jahi McMath was without brain function and was, therefore, beyond recovery.
He denied her family’s petition to extend an earlier restraining order after hearing the testimony of two paediatric neurologists.
Family members and their lawyer said after the proceedings that they had not yet decided whether to dispute the medical findings or appeal the latest decision by Alameda County Judge Evelio Grillo to a higher court.
“I just want to kiss Jahi’s warm face like I do every day,” her grandmother, Sandra Chatman, said outside the court.
Jahi’s uncle, Omari Sealey, said the hearing left him feeling “numb,” adding: “We’re still trying to digest it.”
Jahi was admitted to Children’s Hospital and Resource Centre in Oakland on 9 December for surgery to remove her tonsils but ended up being declared brain dead three days later following complications from the operation, hospital officials have said.
Her family’s lawyer, Christopher Dolan, said the surgery, aimed at treating Jahi’s sleep apnoea – interrupted breathing which can result in disturbed sleep – was considered routine, but after surgery Jahi began bleeding profusely, suffered a heart attack and then brain swelling.
The judge granted a restraining order on Monday barring doctors from taking Jahi off the ventilator – which has kept her breathing artificially – against the family’s wishes any sooner than 5pm local time. Judge Grillo also ordered an independent examination of the girl’s medical condition, which was conducted on Monday under court order by Dr Paul Fisher from Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California.
Both Dr Fisher and another paediatric neurologist from the Oakland hospital, Dr Robin Shanahan, told the judge on Tuesday that Jahi was brain dead, which differs from either a coma or a vegetative state in that there is no brain activity whatsoever.
While it was unclear whether the family might elect to have the girl removed from the ventilator before the judge’s order expires, Mr Dolan indicated that relatives wanted to wait at least until after Christmas.
“A big part of this race was getting this child to and through Christmas,” he said. “The most precious thing we have right now is time.”