Vigil Held For Oakland Girl Declared Brain Dead After Surgery

OAKLAND (KCBS) — The family of an Oakland 13-year-old girl who was declared brain dead following a tonsillectomy last week held a prayer vigil Wednesday night, hoping for a miracle.

Meanwhile, a medical ethicist told KCBS that it is unusual for a hospital to comply with the family’s wishes to keep her on a ventilator this long.

Girl Declared Brain Dead Raises Medical Ethics Issues; Vigil To Be Held

Jahi McMath was declared brain dead after going into Children’s Hospital Oakland for what should have been a low-risk surgery. Her family has insisted that she be kept on breathing apparatus, despite tests that show no brain activity.

David Magnus, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, said this is different from high profile cases in the past.

“Terry Schiavo was severely brain damaged with no hope of recovery, but she was not dead, she still had a functioning brain stem,” Magnus said.

He said in McMath’s case there’s no brain activity at all and that she’s completely brain dead.

“When someone’s declared brain dead they are actually literally dead. What’s really happening is blood has been circulating in the body. Certain biological processes with the cells and the organs are continuing, for a body that is no longer a person. They’ve already passed away,” Magnus said.

According to Magnus, the hospital is legally only required to give the family a reasonable amount of time to say goodbye and perform any religious rituals. But because this came after a tonsillectomy, he said the hospital may be reticent to go against the family’s wishes.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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