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Life and death and Jahi McMath

Life and death and Jahi McMath

Writing at Religion News Service Cathy Grossman explores the collision between family, ethics, law and medicine in the tragic events surrounding Jahi McMath:

Is Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old whose entire brain has ceased to function, dead or alive? Must doctors at a California hospital operate to prepare her for a move to a care facility in New York even though the hospital insists she is dead? No doctor can be compelled to treat the dead.

Or is she alive now and wanting to live on? Her mother, Nailah Winkfield, insists that removing the life-support machinery, which is performing all Jahi’s bodily functions, is the same as killing her daughter. Only a court order keeps Jahi still on life support, and that order expires on Tuesday (Jan. 7).

On Friday, a federal magistrate was expected to begin mediating the three-week-long dispute between Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland and Jahi’s parents. But the battle goes beyond the courtroom, the hospital, and Jahi’s family because American society still struggles with defining death.

Update:” The Alameda County coroner has issued a death certificate Friday stating Jahi McMath died on Dec. 12, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The Oakland Hospital where McMath remains on a ventilator has reached a mediated agreement with the girl’s mother. Nailah Winkfield will be allowed to have a critical care team move Jahi to a care facility, knowing that the girl may suffer cardiac arrest during the transfer, the Chronicle reports. Winkfied reportedly said her daughter is “showing me improvements.””

Discussion on Twitter is #dwdchat


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Donna McNiel

I would agree with the WSJ’s conclusion when a family’s conviction is rooted in a thoughtful, examined belief about what life and death mean. Perhaps the McMath’s is, I don’t know, and so I don’t presume to comment on their particular situation. It does highlight for me what I have experienced repeatedly in parish ministry and my sense that we in the Church have done a disservice by not adequately addressing these issues before people are in the middle of them. If we seriously believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ that has to be reflected in how we live and how we die. There are worse things than dying, and for Christians death is the great consummation, the doorway to full life. (Which is not to say that it is not also rightly accompanied by grief.) I think we have too infrequently discussed the practical matters of end of life issues in light of our theology. It should be a regular feature in preaching, teaching, and pastoral conversations, because as my mother says, none of us get out of this alive.

Pete Haynsworth

Here – from the Wall Street Journal’s weekly Houses of Worship column – is a more empathetic view of the issue, including:

“Many religious communities have come to accept the medical consensus that total brain failure can be used to declare patients dead … But not all religious believers, and certainly not Jahi McMath’s family, accept the medical community’s definition of death. Though there is lingering uncertainty about when a life has ended, and reasonable people can hold different beliefs about what compassion demands in these situations, the faith of these families and the hope and love for their children it inspires deserve our respect.”

Former Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s (conservative/orthodox?) family has kept him alive for 8 years. Should this mother’s faith-based “as long as the heart is beating” stance be questioned?


“Will this turn into Terry Schiavo redux”

It already has: the Schiavo family (i.e., Terry Schiavo’s birth family, the Schindlers) has become involved w/ the McMaths. Helping to exacerbate this macabre circus, instead of helping McGraths accept/grieve/cope.

I’m very sad for the McMaths, of course, but furious at those who would exploit this tragedy.

RIP, Jahi.

JC Fisher

grace for all

forgot to state my name

Tim Lusk

Tucson AZ

grace for all

From 25years of pastoral work I can tell you that the numbers of times I have heard doctors give sad medical information, only to have families deny ever having been given the sad information is high, not because people are liars but in my opinion, the bond with the person diagnosed is so great. What is the greater good in this situation? Certainly compassion should be shown to this family…but continuing to maintain a dead body of life support is both ethically and financially wrong. End of life care is the main driver of medical care, for every dollar spent there, less is spent on trually maintaining life through preventative medicine and other things. When trying to determine if a person is alive or a doctor who uses objective criteria over a lawyer, who uses billable hours.

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