Jahi McMath

As Jahi McMath — girl at center of life-support controversy — dies, coverage still haunted by ghosts

As Jahi McMath — girl at center of life-support controversy — dies, coverage still haunted by ghosts

GetReligion first commented on the story of Jahi McMath back in 2014 in a post titled "God, faith and church (or not)" by my wife, Tamie Ross.

More recently, my colleague Julia Duin delved into a magazine piece on McMath in a post titled "To die or not to die: The New Yorker probes the case of a 13-year-old girl."

Each of those posts lamented the lack of specific details concerning religion and the family's theological reasons for wanting to keep the teen on life support.

So it's little surprise to find much of the recent news coverage of McMath's death haunted by holy ghosts.

Let's start with a big chunk of CNN's report:

(CNN) Jahi McMath, an Oakland teenager whose brain-death following a routine tonsil surgery in 2013 created national headlines, died on June 22, according to the family's attorney.

She was 13 when she underwent surgery to treat pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that made her stop breathing in her sleep and caused other medical problems.

Nearly five years later, "Jahi died as the result of complications associated with liver failure," the statement from attorney Christopher Dolan said.

She underwent surgery on December 9, 2013 at the Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland. After the procedure to remove her tonsils, adenoids and extra sinus tissue Jahi was alert and talking to doctors and even requested a Popsicle.

According to her family, Jahi was in the intensive care unit when she started to bleed and went into cardiac arrest. On December 12, 2013 she was declared brain-dead. Her family disagreed with the declaration.

This launched a months-long battle between the hospital, which sought to remove Jahi from a ventilator after doctors and a judge concluded she was brain-dead, and her relatives, who fought in court to keep her on the ventilator and contended she showed signs of life.

See any missing words there?

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To die or not to die: The New Yorker probes the case of a 13-year-old girl

To die or not to die: The New Yorker probes the case of a 13-year-old girl

Occasionally there comes a story that’s a mishmash of religion and ethics to the point where it’s unclear where one ends and the other begins. Such is this New Yorker piece on Jahi McMath, a 13-year-old Oakland, Calif., girl who went in to have her tonsils removed and ended up brain-dead.

Being that one of my daughter’s friends nearly died after a tonsillectomy, I knew how things can wrong really fast after one of those operations and how clueless the medical professionals can be. And, according to this tale, they ignored this child’s copious bleeding and obvious distress until her heart stopped a few hours later.

They got her breathing started again but declared her brain dead two days later. Days passed, but for her furious family, the battle had just begun. It was December 2013. The family hired a personal injury lawyer to, among other things, keep the hospital from pulling the ventilator plug.

Here’s where the religion part comes in:

A self-described “cafeteria Catholic,” he acted on a vague feeling that a child with a beating heart was not entirely dead. He wrote a cease-and-desist order: if doctors unplugged Jahi’s ventilator, he said, they would violate her and her family’s civil rights…In a separate motion, Dolan argued that the hospital was infringing on (the mother) Nailah’s right to express her religion. He said that, as a Christian, she believed that her daughter’s soul inhabited her body as long as her heart beat.

We never do learn in this story what kind of Christian the mom is, nor if her pastor or church played any role in the saga. But other pastors were in the story.

Three days before Christmas, a group of church leaders in Oakland gathered in front of the hospital and asked the district attorney to investigate what had happened to Jahi. “Is not Jahi worthy of the highest amount of medical treatment?” Brian K. Woodson, Sr., the pastor of Bay Area Christian Connection, said at a press conference.

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New twists in Jahi McMath case -- but same old generic religion in media coverage

New twists in Jahi McMath case -- but same old generic religion in media coverage

Jahi McMath -- the teenage girl from California whose family is fighting to keep her alive against a hospital's brain-death diagnosis -- is back in the headlines.  Yet, even as Jahi's family says she is showing new signs of brain activity,  there is little sign that mainstream journalists feel the need to exercise their brains when describing the family's faith. Instead, they continue to keep the faith angle as generic as possible, chalking up the persistence of the teen's family to vague "religious grounds."

The San Jose Mercury News clearly sees recent developments in McMath's case as newsworthy, highlighting their novelty:

OAKLAND -- Her attorney calls her "Patient No. 1," a groundbreaking test of widely accepted standards defining brain death as a form of irreversible mortality. Indeed, as far as brain-dead patients go, Jahi McMath has entered uncharted territory.
Most families, according to medical experts, come to terms with a medical diagnosis of brain death within days. Loved ones gather to say goodbye as machines are shut off, organ donation decisions are made, funeral services planned.
Not so for Jahi, who would have celebrated her 14th birthday on Friday. Almost 11 months after she was first declared brain dead and became the subject of a national debate, the Oakland 13-year-old remains on machines -- a case unlike any recorded in the United States since the medical establishment first recognized brain death as a form of death in the past century, experts said. ...
Jahi's doctors say original tests performed on the girl were accurate but contend that, over time, the swelling in her brain has receded, and tests now show different results. Videos released by Dolan also show her limbs moving when her mother commands her to move.

The story doesn't link to the videos. Here is one in which Jahi appears to kick her foot at her mother's prompt.

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Pod People: Prayer's place in science, sports and submission

Where is Jahi McMath, and what is the latest installment of her story? I’m glad you asked! Host Todd Wilken and I talked some about this and other subjects during this week’s installment of Crossroads.

(This is my third podcast, and I like to think I’m not embarrassing myself as badly with experience. This being interviewed business is tough when there’s not a delete key between you and your thoughts.)

As you’ll remember from my post last week, McMath is the brain-dead 13-year-old California girl whose parents won the legal battle to take possession of her still-ventilated body from Children’s Hospital Oakland and move it to an undisclosed location. Early reports indicated the family and their attorney had found a facility and physicians to “care for” the child and use restorative measures, presumably to bring her back to life. And prayer, lots of prayer. And they’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars via their gofundme page.

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God, faith, Jahi McMath and church (or not)

God, faith, Jahi McMath and church (or not)

I can't remember the last time I became so engrossed in a story.

Perhaps it's because I also have a teenage daughter (who, by the way, also is interested). Maybe it's the unprecedented attention, or the opportunity to educate myself about an issue I had not previously considered: whole brain death and all its scientific and physical ramifications. More likely, it's the passion on both sides and the way people of faith everywhere are reacting so emotionally to the case.

I can't look away, in other words.

Jahi McMath, the brain-dead teen from Oakland, Calif., continues to make global headlines as family members, their lawyers, the medical community and media outlets ...

What? What are they doing, exactly?

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God, faith, Jahi McMath and church (or not)

I can’t remember the last time I became so engrossed in a story. Perhaps it’s because I also have a teenage daughter (who, by the way, also is interested). Maybe it’s the unprecedented attention, or the opportunity to educate myself about an issue I had not previously considered: whole brain death and all its scientific and physical ramifications. More likely, it’s the passion on both sides and the way people of faith everywhere are reacting so emotionally to the case.

Jahi McMath, the brain-dead teen from Oakland, Calif., continues to make global headlines as family members, their lawyers, the medical community and media outlets …

No one outside those intimately involved know where the child is or what the family is thinking and doing, outside of their press conferences and social media posts. But those statements and Instagram updates are filled with requests for prayers and allusions to miracles, in spite of the signed death certificate with her name on it. The mother, against all scientific data, precedent and the physical state of her child, believes God will heal her daughter. And she says she is pursuing a level of recovery-themed care for the legally dead child (a feeding tube, a tracheostomy tube) that will aid in the physical side of her vigil.

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