In the News
Oakland, Calif.—A 13-year-old girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy is now at the center of an emotional court battle. Jahi McMath’s family is fighting Children’s Hospital Oakland, which wants to disconnect the girl from a ventilator. Her family is trying to transfer her to another facility, saying they’re hoping for a miracle.
A judge has said the hospital can disconnect Jahi’s machines on January 7. The hospital, an independent doctor, and a judge all agree the girl is brain dead and that her condition is irreversible. “No amount of prayer, no amount of hope, no amount of any type of medical procedure will bring her back,” said hospital spokesman Sam Singer.
Christopher Dolan, the attorney for Jahi’s family, has accused the hospital of being “hell bent” on ending the girl’s life. In a statement, the family said, “We have our strong religious convictions…and we believe that, in this country, a parent has the right to make decisions concerning the existence of their child…and definitely not a doctor who runs the facility that caused the brain death in the first place.”
Relatives of Terri Schiavo, who was at the center of a right-to-die battle in 2005, are supporting the McMath family. In a statement, the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network said Jahi’s case represents a “very deep problem” in U.S. healthcare, with decisions being made by hospitals that have “a vested financial interest in discontinuing life.”
But medical ethicist Arthur Caplan said Jahi’s case is “giving the impression that dead people can come back to life.” It’s important to realize, he said, that “brain death” is, by definition, as final as cardiac death.
“There are no winners in this very tragic case,” said hospital spokesman Singer, adding that “our hearts and thoughts” go out to Jahi’s family.
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What’s your reaction to what happened to Jahi and to the legal battle that has resulted? In such cases, who do you think should make the final decisions, and why?
Do parents have the right to overrule medical and legal professionals, when it comes to their children’s well-being? As a parent, would you trust the end-of-life judgments of a hospital where routine surgery had gone horribly wrong? Why or why not?
In your opinion, is Jahi’s family merely prolonging the tragedy or just trying to do everything they can for their daughter? What advice or comfort would you offer to someone in this situation?
Do you think medical miracles still occur today? If so, explain. When, if ever, should people accept that a miracle won’t occur for them or their loved ones?
Describe the role of hope in your Christian life. How is hope different from faith or trust? What types of things tend to strengthen or weaken your hope, and why?
If a non-Christian friend asked you why God allows pain, suffering, and death, how would you respond? How can God work through these things and use them in his plan for our lives?
What are your personal wishes regarding end-of-life care? Would you want to be sustained by machines, even if the prognosis was very poor, or would you want doctors to do everything possible for you? Explain.
Why are discussions about death and dying so difficult? Are you afraid of death? Why or why not?
Scripture links: Luke 8:40-56; John 14:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; and Hebrews 10:23, 35-36.