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Is Forcing a Family to Remove a Child From Life Support Ever a Good Thing?

Is Forcing a Family to Remove a Child From Life Support Ever a Good Thing?

It’s a scenario no family should ever have to face complications from what should have been a routine surgery instead leaves a 13-year-old girl brain dead and on life support, never again to be a part of their lives. However, when forced to do the unthinkable and decide when or if life support should be ended, that choice can be even more fraught with issues. After all, when is it in the best interests for a family to say good bye on their own timeline, and is it ever better for medical professionals to make that decision for them?

That’s the issue occurring in California, where the family of 13-year-old Jahi McMath has obtained an injunction forbidding Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland from removing the girl from life support, despite the fact that she has been declared legally brain dead and doctors say there is no hope of any sort of recovery.

McMath was in the hospital for a tonsillectomy, which was hoped would assist her with a number of other health issues she had been struggling with ranging from sleep apnea to weight gain. During her recovery in the hospital, however, she allegedly went into cardiac arrest, and a follow up CT scan showed her brain was swollen. On Monday she was declared brain dead according to state law, which requires two doctors to examine the patient and make the determination, with the examinations done at least three hours apart. The hospital allegedly told the family that they would need to remove McMath from life support, but the family filed papers with the courts to stop that from occurring.

“I just feel my daughter is trapped inside of her body, just screaming to get out of there,” Latasha “Nailah” Winkfield said Tuesday, according to NBC News. “I won’t let them take her to the coroner’s office. I won’t.” The family also stated that they were certain that something went wrong with the medical procedure and are seeking answers from the hospital.

There lies the problem. Keeping the young girl on life support provides the family with the time that they need to say goodbye to a beloved child. It will not change her prognosis unlike a persistent vegetative state, where a patient could conceivably have some small hope for recovery, a declaration that a patient is brain dead means there is no chance for brain activity to resume. However, it does allow for a family to heal and accept their loss on their own terms.

On the other hand, it makes determining the exact cause of death that much more difficult, and could force the family to lose closure when it comes to learning what, if anything, could have prevented this tragedy from happening. “When the body is on a ventilator, the body is healing,” an official at the coroner’s office told CNN. “If a medical misadventure occurred, and the body is healing and covering up traces of that misadventure, the coroner pathologist has a more difficult time rendering a cause of death.”

It’s a vicious trade off. Any delay could mean that discovering what went wrong during the procedure or the follow up care may never be solved. Yet forcing a family to face their loss before they are ready could be just as damaging.

Although science says it is an impossibility, the family expects a miracle. “Our faith is so strong that we don’t even think about the possibility of death,” McMath’s uncle, Omari Sealey, said. “We believe with all the prayers from everyone around the world and the prayers with our family that she will wake up, that she will heal completely.”

The family has said they intend to be at the hospital to celebrate Christmas with her. The hospital has agreed at this point to leave her on life support indefinitely. Like the debate over all end of life issues often are, this story is currently at a stalemate.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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74 comments

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11:42AM PST on Jan 20, 2014

I don't know the answer. The family is suffering and can't face the facts. Give them the time they need.

6:35AM PST on Jan 11, 2014

The loss of a child is tragic, but I hope this family can quickly come to the understanding that Jahi is dead and will not recover.

6:43PM PST on Jan 6, 2014

I really feel for this family. But no one recovers from brain death. Maybe the family just needs time to come to the better decision, and let their daughter go. for someone to remain, passively, on life support for years when there is brain death taxes medical and economic resources far too much. this is another reason for all of us to have talks on this subject.

7:10PM PST on Jan 5, 2014

I know God can heal her if it is his will. I have seen miracles before. I hope everyone lifts this young lady up in prayer for healing.

12:42AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

Eventually, it will be obvious (even if they believe in miracles) if there's no chance of recovery.
If someone's brain dead: they have no chance.

4:49AM PST on Dec 31, 2013

I don't care what science says. I have heard too many stories where doctors say it is an impossibility and yet people have recovered completely. I have prayed for this family and the recovery of their child. I urge all who have faith to do the same and we WILL see a miracle. Science and doctors are nothing compared to the power of God.

Mark 11:24 "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

2:31PM PST on Dec 29, 2013

I think it should be up to the parents on when she comes off support. They should be made aware of the fact that delays may lose the chance to discover what actually went wrong in surgery. I also think they could be trying to avoid losing their child in the Christmas season. Losing someone at Christmas time is painful every year after. Christmas is never the same. It may be just delaying the inevitable, but it may be better for remaining family. Losing my father on December 26 several years ago has had a permanent affect on the season for the family.

1:09PM PST on Dec 28, 2013

Thank you

5:23PM PST on Dec 27, 2013

very rough decision...however there are people whose brains are intact, but who are surely going to die because they won't be able to afford medical supplies/surgeries. That is the crime that will increase in frequency with cutbacks. Thank you Republicans, y'all got hearts of stone.

10:11AM PST on Dec 26, 2013

If you really believe in heaven and that heaven is the ultimate experience, why keep someone from going there?

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