Over two years ago, 13-year-old Jahi McMath was declared brain-dead following complications related to tonsil surgery in California. Jahi’s hospital pushed to remove the young girl from life support, but her family suspected that the prognosis of brain death was inaccurate, citing responsiveness from Jahi among evidence that she was not brain-dead. A legal battle between the hospital and family ensued, and ultimately Jahi’s family was able to move her from California to a facility in New Jersey, but not until the McMath family obtained a death certificate for Jahi from the local coroner.
Since her transfer to New Jersey, Jahi has shown further signs that she is not, in fact, brain-dead. Her current physician in New Jersey cites hypothalamic activity in Jahi as the latest evidence that Jahi’s brain is functioning in ways that a brain-dead person’s would not. For example, Jahi entered puberty, which requires brain activity, after being declared brain-dead. According to the San Francisco Chronicle:
Dr. Alieta Eck, Jahi’s current doctor, has made a declaration in the suit claiming that after months of caring for Jahi, she believes the teen is alive. “While Jahi McMath has suffered a serious, and significant brain injury, and exhibits the presentation of one who has suffered serious brain trauma, and exhibits signs and characteristics of serious brain damage, Jahi McMath is not dead,” Eck stated. “She exhibits signs of brain function.” Jahi has entered puberty, developing breasts and underarm hair and starting her period. Puberty can only happen when the hypothalamus, which is part of the brain, releases hormones. Jahi’s hypothalamus is still working, Eck said, which means she still has some brain function.
Jahi’s family acknowledges that Jahi is brain-injured and disabled, arguing that she deserves to move back to her home state of California where she can receive insurance and continued medical care. However, the family’s continued legal fight to have California rescind the death certificate have yielded no success, and without the state’s acknowledgement that Jahi is a living person (which she maintains in New Jersey), Jahi will be ineligible for insurance coverage in California.
“I want her to have the same rights as any other disabled person,” Jahi’s mom told CBS News. Wesley J. Smith, renowned bioethics expert who has been covering McMath’s plight from the beginning, wrote in the National Review Online: “There must be a complete and open reexamination by prominent physicians not wedded to either the status quo determination or finding that she lives. The personal, scientific, and legal stakes are just too high for anything less.”