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Why Do Misconceptions About Brain Death Persist?

Fri, 12/27/2013 - 9:15am
Skeptical Scalpel

On December 9, 2013, 13-year-old Jahi McMath underwent a tonsillectomy at a children's hospital in Oakland, California. She suffered postoperative hemorrhage and became comatose. She was declared brain-dead by doctors at that hospital on December 12th. This was later confirmed by a court-appointed outside consultant.

There are many issues surrounding this case. Was the tonsillectomy indicated? Some stories reported that it was done to improve her obstructive sleep apnea. Why wasn't she successfully rescued from her complication of bleeding? I can find no discussion about how she could have bled so much without intervention in any article about the case.

But one of the most distressing aspects of this poor child's demise is that despite many years of experience with brain death, it is still misunderstood by laypeople, the courts, and even some medical providers.

As of December 26th, 14 days after the brain death declaration, the child remains on a mechanical ventilator with apparently stable vital signs.

A lawyer for the family had petitioned the court for the outside expert's consultation and to prevent the hospital from disconnecting the child's life-support.

After all this time, a judge has finally ruled that the hospital may remove the life-support but not until December 30th to give the family time to appeal to a higher court.

What a shame. It is bad enough that this girl has died. But to realize that in 2013, society still cannot deal with the concept that brain death is "death" makes it sadder.

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