MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A California teenager declared brain dead in December following complications during tonsil surgery is being treated at an undisclosed facility.

Jahi McMath, 13, was transferred out of Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday night. Reports indicated she was moved from the hospital on a ventilator with the assistance of a critical care team, though her destination was not immediately confirmed.

“According to everything I’ve read, she is dead,” said Dr. Alvin Moss, director of West Virginia University’s Center for Health Ethics and Law. “It’s really a medical decision when a patient is dead. When a patient lacks total function of their brain, including their brain stem, doctors legally can declare a patient dead.”

McMath was declared brain dead Dec. 12, just three days after complications during surgery to remove her tonsils. On Friday, the Alameda County coroner issued a death certificate for McMath.

Family members, though, have repeatedly said they believe McMath is still alive and should be given time to recover. The debate over McMath ended up in court before the girl was released to the custody of her mother on Sunday.

In cases similar to McMath’s in West Virginia, Moss said the state’s Uniform Determination of Death Act dictates the actions of physicians.  The act reads as follows:

§16-10-1. Determination of death.

An individual who has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead. A determination of death must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards.

Moss said the phrase “accepted medical standards” is key.  “I think you as a lay person know that if you’re not breathing, you’re dead and the only reason why she (McMath) is breathing now is because the machine is breathing for her,” said Moss.

“It’s very sad and my heart goes out to the family because this was a tragic complication, unexpected complication of this severity after a tonsillectomy, but, unfortunately, she’s dead.”

Moss was a guest Monday on MetroNews “Talkline.”

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  • Bill

    I can only imagine how hard this has to be for the family. However at some point a decision has to be made as to when someone is dead. Someone has to make that decision and in my life time that has always been a doctor that declared a person dead. With all the technology on hand today that shows vital signs and brain activity the chances are 99.99% she is not longer in this world.

    I am now wondering who is paying the cost of keeping this young girl on life support? If the family insists on keeping her on life support after she has been pronounced dead then from that point on all the cost should be paid by the family.


    Truly a sad situation .

  • BocaDoc

    and my thanks to Dr. Moss for a very thoughtful and cogent discussion of this very thorny topic.

  • BocaDoc

    One additional thought about the judge in this case, I think he did what he had to do. The family made a formal pleading, it was denied, they said they wanted to appeal, they were granted a period of time in which to prepare and file that appeal. In the meanwhile the 2 opposing parties reached a deal to release the body. Whereas I think this deal was very ill advised, it was legal. The judge was not free to legislate from the bench. It was a matter of due process being observed... however misguided the end result may be.

  • BocaDoc

    How did it come to this?
    The public morphed from sympathetic to puzzled to disgusted
    As for the family, either they are angling for a big payoff or they are too dim-witted to grasp the concept of brain death. Either way they shouldn’t be making any decisions in this case. Both the child and society need to be protected from them.
    As for their lawyer’s comportment in this entire case: beneath contempt. He singlehandedly has validated every sleazy-lawyer stereotype.

    • Bill Hill

      "As for the family, either they are angling for a big payoff or they are too dim-witted to grasp the concept of brain death". I don't know the families motivations and I doubt you do either.

      Did it ever occur to you that this is their child and parental love enters into the picture. They placed their child in the hands of medical staff for a procedure that is very low risk. They got back a brain dead child. I imagine the shock alone was mind numbing.
      Remember it is easy to play armchair doctor and parent and quite a different situation when you face it personally. You would do well to remember that.

      The fact of the matter is medical doctors aren't gods. They are human beings and as such they are subject to human frailties, biases, and limitations just as all human beings are. Neither do doctors have all wisdom and all knowledge. You are not god and you would well to remember that.