The family of Jahi McMath, a California teenager who was controversially declared brain-dead after experiencing complications with a tonsillectomy, is seeking a court order declaring her alive after a series of tests have demonstrated brain activity. Chris Dolan, McMath’s attorney, revealed testing results on Thursday which he claims will help overturn a judge’s January finding of brain death. The tests were performed by doctors from the non-profit International Brain Research Foundation (IBRF), who ran tests on the 13-year-old girl at Rutgers University last week.
Controversy over McMath’s condition arose last December when two doctors at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland declared that McMath was brain-dead after two evaluations demonstrated no neurological activity.But McMath’s family was not willing to take the word of the judge and three doctors. Unable to persuade the judge or the hospital in California to leave their daughter on life support, McMath’s family moved her to New Jersey where she is being cared for at an undisclosed medical facility.
McMath’s family members are not alone in their skepticism about the girl’s status as brain-dead. NBC New York reports that Philip A. De Fina, founder, chief executive and chief scientific officer of IBRF, also disagrees with the conclusions of earlier tests. During the Thursday conference held by McMath’s attorney, Dolan presented a video of McMath twitching her foot when her mother asks her to move. According to DeFina there have been several other similar tests performed which show a “consistency” that may suggest more than the expected brain activity. In addition, DeFina presented evidence that McMath’s brain had not “liquefied” in the way it had been expected to, with scans even demonstrating electrical activity and blood flow in the brain.
The new research is far from definitive, however, as Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, has raised some issue, stating that electrical activity in the brain does not exclude the possibility of brain death. He said: “Brain death is loss of integrated functioning, not loss of every neuron firing.”
While McMath’s family may not be able to convince everyone that their daughter is still alive, they have managed to shake up the medical community’s definitions of brain death. Los Angeles Times reports that Rebecca Dresser, professor of law and ethics in medicine at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said that if the test results can be proven correct then “it shows that medical authorities don’t know everything about brain death, that there may be cases that seem to fit the medical criteria where people are actually not brain-dead.” McMath’s family have by no means given up on their daughter; with an additional court hearing coming up on Oct. 9, the family may finally be able to revoke their daughter’s death certificate.