Judge: Hospital can disconnect brain-dead teen

9:20 PM, Dec 24, 2013   |    comments
13-year-old Jahi McMath has been declared medically dead.
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SAN FRANCISCO (USA TODAY) -- A California judge Tuesday ruled that a teen left brain dead after having her tonsils removed can be disconnected from life support Dec. 30.

The ruling by Alameda County Judge Evelio Grillo followed testimony from a Stanford University neurologist that 13-year-old Jahi McMath met all medical criteria for brain death, the third such conclusion since she hemorrhaged and had a heart attack after a Dec. 9 tonsillectomy at Children's Hospital Oakland. Doctors declared her brain dead Dec. 12 and have sought to end all means of artificial life support.

In rejecting the family's bid to keep Jahi on a ventilator, Grillo said that unless a higher court intervenes, the hospital can discontinue life support at 5 p.m. Dec. 30, an order he first issued Monday.

"This has been very, very hard on you," Grillo said, directing his comments to Jahi's mother and other family members. "No one anywhere would wish this to happen to anyone. ... I hope you find some comfort in your religion."

Family members said after the hearing that they had not yet decided on whether to appeal, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. They will spend Christmas Eve at Jahi's bedside.

"Its heartbreaking, but our faith is still strong," said her uncle, Omari Sealey. "We still have her through the 30th. There's still hope for a miracle."

On Monday, Grillo appointed Paul Graham Fisher, chief of child neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine, to examine Jahi. In court Tuesday, he concurred with the hospital's assessment that she "meets all criteria for brain death."

He was followed by Children's Hospital pediatric neurologist Robin Shanahan, who has performed more than 300 brain-death determinations, the Contra Costa Timessays. She said that on Dec. 11 she performed two tests that confirmed doctors' diagnosis that Jahi was brain dead. In one test, she was unable to breathe on her own after being removed from the ventilator.

The family's attorney had asked Grillo to allow a third evaluation, by Paul Byrne, a pediatric professor at the University of Toledo. The hospital's attorney objected, saying Byrne is not a pediatric neurologist.

Byrne is the co-editor of the 2001 book Beyond Brain Death, which argues against using brain-based criteria for declaring a person dead.

STORY: Family hopes to spend Christmas with brain-dead teen

In an open letter over the weekend, Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, pleaded for prayers and time to keep her daughter on a ventilator.

"Despite what they say, she is alive. I can touch her, she is warm. She responds to my touch," Winkfield wrote. "Given time I know (God) will spark her brain awake."

The hospital said in a statement Monday that it was "sorry that Jahi McMath suffered tragic complications from her complex surgery," and was "committed to learning what led to this catastrophic outcome."

"Our hearts go out to the grieving family and community about this sad situation," the hospital said, adding, "We have the deepest sympathy for Jahi's mother who wishes her daughter was alive."

Nevertheless, "the ventilator cannot reverse the brain death that has occurred and it would be wrong to give false hope that Jahi will ever come back to life."

Contributing: Associated Press

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