Family Of Legally Dead Teen Jahi McMath Post Pictures Saying She Is “Happy And Healthy As Ever”
In December of 2013, 13-year-old Jahi McMath of Oakland, California, went in to surgery to have her tonsils, adenoids and uvula removed in order to help her sleep apnea. During the operation, she went into cardiac arrest, losing oxygen to her brain.
Several neurologists declared her legally dead, noting that she was unable to breathe without a ventilator, had no blood flow to her brain, and no sign of electrical activity. However, because machines were able to keep the girl’s heart beating and lungs working, her family decided to move her to an undisclosed facility in New Jersey, hoping that she would somehow miraculously recover.
“Beautiful Jahi and her lovely mother. Recent picture of Jahi with her loving mother. Jahi as healthy and beautiful as ever, proving the naysayers wrong. A fighter, A warrior, A blessed child, Gods got your back little girl, keep fighting. Your testimony will be a great one. Prayers going up from many, all the prayers, good wishes combined with your mothers love for you which is pure and soothing will definitely keep you going. Stay blessed everyone and thank you for your prayers and love.”
The response to the picture has been both positive–from fellow true believers who are sure Jahi will recover if they pray enough–and negative, from people mocking the family for thinking their daughter is going to make a recovery when there is simply no chance of that happening. I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t believe she’ll recover. I believe in science not miracles. But I don’t feel the need to criticize this family for making a choice that really affects no one but them.
There’s a lot of tension these days between those who believe fully in science and those who believe fully in religion–and it affects everything, from climate change to how old the earth is. From a scientific perspective, it’s clear that Jahi McMath is dead. From certain religious perspectives, there is the chance that God could bestow a miracle and bring her back to life.
However, I think that argument is misplaced here. I don’t think that this is as much about faith as it is about hope, and the fact that giving up hope is a really, really hard thing to do. Even those of us who believe in science can have as much trouble with that as those who don’t.
Years ago, my mother told me about the terms of the living will she’d set up. In the event that she were on life support and being kept alive by machines, it would be my younger sister who would be in charge of deciding when to pull the plug. “You’re too sentimental, you’d keep me on that shit forever,” she said. It stung a bit at the time, but I knew she wasn’t wrong. Despite the fact that I thought Terri Schiavo’s parents were ridiculous from an outsider’s stance, I’ve always been a person who has a very hard time giving up hope, and I tend to hold onto things like no one’s business. Heck, I still have letters my friends wrote me when I moved to New York at age 15.
Even when we understand certain things, cognitively, it can be difficult to be totally rational when it comes to our own lives.
Years later, a few things occurred that made me realize that I would, in fact, be strong enough to make that decision. For one, my mother got very very sick and I saw first-hand what things would be like if she were in that position. For another, my cat got very sick and I had to make the decision to put him to sleep. The latter sounds silly by comparison, but after doing everything I could to help him get better (including putting him on dialysis, which was not cheap), I realized that no matter how much I loved him, trying to save him was hurting him more than letting him go. I realized that I was capable of being unselfish enough to let go.
Jahi McMath is not going to make a miraculous comeback. No one who has ever met the very strict criteria for brain death has ever survived. There have been cases where patients have been misdiagnosed, but in Jahi’s case, where neurological tests show no blood flowing to the brain — there is no possibility of a misdiagnosis and no question that she is brain dead, that she is legally dead, and that she is not coming back.
The family has petitioned to have Jahi’s death certificate reversed, which would mean their insurance companies would have to pay for her care. It’s unlikely that this will happen, but until it does, until it becomes something that could affect anyone outside this family, it’s not anyone’s place to judge their choices.
The fact remains: Jahi can’t tell what’s going on. She’s dead. She can’t feel pain. Essentially, her parents keeping her on these machines isn’t hurting anyone but them. And, maybe this is just what they need to do until they are ready to fully accept the fact that she’s not coming back. I think they probably won’t be able to let go until they are sure that they’ve exhausted every possible chance of her coming back. I don’t have faith in anything supernatural, but I can certainly understand that kind of hope.