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USA: California family win life support court stay

The mother of Jahi McMath, Nailah Winkfield, center, embraces her brother Omari Sealey. Picture: AP

The mother of Jahi McMath, Nailah Winkfield, center, embraces her brother Omari Sealey. Picture: AP

  • by LAILA KEARNEY
 

THE family of a California girl who was declared brain-dead after complications from a tonsillectomy won an 11th-hour court order yesterday requiring doctors to keep her connected to a breathing machine for at least another week.

Under the latest court order, doctors at Children’s Hospital and Research Centre in Oakland are barred from taking 13-year-old Jahi McMath off a ventilator without her family’s consent before Tuesday, relatives and hospital officials said.

The eight-day extension gives the girl’s relatives, who refuse to accept that she is beyond recovery, more time to complete arrangements to have her transferred to a treatment centre.

Alameda County superior court judge Evilio Grillo’s decision to extend the previous deadline set in his own restraining order of last week was intended to allow time for an appeal, hospital officials said.

A person declared brain dead is considered legally and physiologically dead under California law, as is the case in many states, and the hospital’s statements about Jahi have referred to her as deceased.

The family filed a lawsuit in US District Court on Monday asking a federal judge to intervene to keep Jahi connected to the machine that has kept her heart and lungs going for more than two weeks.

The lawsuit claimed the hospital’s planned “removal of cardiopulmonary support over the objections” of the girl’s mother, and against her religious principles, amounts to an infringement of religious freedom and privacy rights under the US ­constitution.

Mr Grillo initially refused last week to extend his restraining order after two paediatric neurologists testified that Jahi had suffered an irreversible loss of all brain activity and was thus medically dead.

Family members said they were seeking to have her moved to a long-term treatment centre in New York and had raised $20,000 (£12,000) to pay for a cross-country airlift.

Jahi’s grandmother Sandra Chatman, who is a nurse, said the girl had started to move her legs and appeared to be responding to voices of loved ones.

The girl’s uncle, Omar Sealey, also said Jahi was responding to her mother’s voice and touch and that he had video to prove it.

“We have a paediatrician who has seen Jahi who has sworn that she is not dead,” Mr Sealey said.

A hospital spokeswoman said it was not uncommon for spontaneous twitching or other body movements caused by spinal reflexes to occur in recently deceased individuals.

The hospital has said it would not stand in the way of Jahi’s being moved to another facility. But officials refused last week to perform additional procedures that might be required, such as placing a tracheotomy and gastric tubes in her body before a transfer.

As part of its request for federal court action on Monday, the family asked that the hospital be required to carry out those preparations. The hospital also has said it needs written assurances from a coroner that the transfer would be permitted.

Jahi was admitted to Children’s Hospital on 9 December for surgery to remove her tonsils to treat her sleep apnoea. Shortly after the procedure, she began to bleed severely, suffered a heart attack and then brain swelling, according to the family’s lawyer, Christopher Dolan.

Hospital officials declared her brain-dead on 12 December. According to medical experts, Jahi’s lungs and heart are only continuing to function because of air being forced in and out of her body by the ventilator, without which her breathing and heartbeat would cease.

Hospital officials have said the facility and state health officials are investigating how a routine operation led to Jahi’s death and that they understand the family’s anguish.

Chief of paediatrics Dr David Durand added: “It would be wrong to give false hope that Jahi will ever come back to life.”

 

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