Bioethics Blogs

Jahi McMath – Status in May 2015

On Thursday, Paul A. Byrne published a short article titled “Jahi is Alive – Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”  

Byrne writes that he recently visited Jahi in her home. “Jahi is beautiful. The day that I visited Jahi she had on lip gloss like many teenagers.”  While Byrne rejects the very diagnosis of “brain death,” some of his assertions appear to be true.  

1.  Byrne writes:  “Jahi’s heart has continued to beat on its own more than 60 million times since she was declared ‘brain dead.'” 

Pope responds:  Indeed, with mechanical ventilatory support, the hearts of dead individuals can be made to beat.

2.  Byrne writes:  “The doctors in Oakland Children’s Hospital further declared that Jahi’s heart would stop beating and that she would otherwise deteriorate. These predictions have not occurred.”  

Pope responds:  This is apparently true.  Prognostication is not perfect.  Alan Shewmon has shown that some individuals declared dead on neurological criteria have been physiologically sustained for more than a decade.

3.  Byrne writes:  “Healing continues in Jahi, like all living patients declared ‘brain dead.'”  

Pope responds:  I am not sure about this.  Most individuals determined dead on neurological criteria rapidly deteriorate DESPITE continued physiological support.  While that has not happened with Jahi, there is no evidence that she is actually “healing.”  Of course, if there is evidence of brain activity as several neurologists claimed in October 2014, that would be a very different story.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.