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.”