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Jahi McMath Case Sparks Debate Over Definition Of Death

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Jahi McMath (family photo)

Jahi McMath (family photo)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS) — The case of Jahi McMath is a very emotional one and the medical and ethical aspects of it are complex.

KPIX5 spoke to Dr. David Magnus, a Professor of Pediatrics at Stanford and also the Chair of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics about the 13-year-old girl on ventilator support at Children’s Hospital Oakland. The hospital declared her brain-dead just 3 days after undergoing a tonsillectomy.

Magnus explained there are 2 ways in which a patient can be declared dead — by circulatory criteria, meaning the heart has stopped, or, as in the case of Jahi McMath, by neurological criteria, meaning the brain has stopped.

“It sometimes seems when we hear ‘brain dead’ that it’s not real death, or it’s almost dead but not really death – and that is not the case, ” said Magnus

“This (Jahi McMath) is not like many of the other patients who have been comatose, some of whom who have recovered, some who have not recovered,” said Magnus. “In these cases, they were living patients who had suffered catastrophic brain injury.”

“It’s critically important for the public be clear, this is not a Terri Schiavo case, this is not an end of life case. This is a case where the patient’s end of life already came and went.”

Magnus said the medical and legal definitions of death have been established for about 30 years.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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