brain death

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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The Washington Post puts generic faith at the heart of a family's fight to save a child

The Washington Post puts generic faith at the heart of a family's fight to save a child

First things first: I have nothing but praise for the dramatic and very human story that unfolds in the recent Washington Post feature that ran under the headline, " ‘God is telling me not to let go’: A mother fights to keep her 2-year-old on life support."

This story focuses on agonizing choices and, in this age of soaring health-care costs, that means dealing with the viewpoints of medical-industry professionals as well as traumatized family members. Readers need to understand both points of view to grasp some of the core issues in this piece.

Also, the story doesn't hide the fact that religious faith is, for the parents of little Israel Stinson, at the heart of their fight to keep him alive. There is quite a bit of religious language in this piece, as there must be.

So what is missing? Well, if this family's faith is at the heart of their story, might readers want to know something about the details of that faith? Maybe even the name of this faith? Are they Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses or what? Hold that thought.

Here is the overture for the story:

Two-year-old Israel Stinson was being treated for an asthma attack in an emergency room in Northern California last month when he started to shiver, his lips turning purple and his eyes rolling back in his head.
Over the next day, court records claim, Israel had a hard time breathing, went into cardiac arrest and seemingly slipped into a coma. Soon, his doctors declared him brain-dead and decided that he should be disconnected from the machine that kept his heart beating.
But his parents protested: Discontinuing medical treatment, they argued, would violate their son's right to a life -- and their hope that he might eventually have one.

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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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