Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ventilating the Dead: Two Cases

Jahi McMath is dead as a result of a rare and tragic bleeding complication following what was supposed to be a routine tonsillectomy. There is no trace of electronic activity in her brain. By law, she is dead; on Friday California decreed that she had been dead since December 12. But she's dead more than just "by law." She has no feeling, no thoughts, no memories, no dreams, no experiences, no emotions, no responses--and no hope of ever having any of those things ever again. Thanks to mechanical intervention, her heart continues to beat and her body appears warm and life-like. Her parents, hoping for a miracle, went to court to prevent her medical team from removing the life-support machinery from her dead body. They lost the court battle, but found a California nursing facility willing to accept transfer of the dead girl, and to keep her body attached to machines. Presumably the nursing home will charge someone for this service, though it's not clear what state or private insurance would pay for medical care for a dead person. The parents have already received over $50,000 in private donations, but mechanical ventilation costs thousands per day. In any case, Ms. McMath's body will gradually deteriorate even on mechanical support. She is already described by her family's attorney as being in "very bad shape" after her transfer. "We don't know if she's going to make it," he said of the dead girl. "Her medical condition, separate from the brain issue, is not good." 

Enter former (and future?) Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee:
The former Arkansas governor and ordained pastor began his Fox News show by admitting that he did not have the medical experience necessary to understand 13-year-old Jahi McMath’s condition but he encouraged her family to fight against any attempts to remove her from life support even though doctors said she technically "died several weeks ago.”
In other words, "I don't know the facts but I know what to do." Thanks, Mike.
 “Every life has value and worth,” Huckabee told his viewers on Saturday.
But Ms. McMath is no longer alive, Mike.
“There is no such person who is disposable, one whose life has been deemed by others to be less than others and therefore expendable, I can’t share that.” He continued: “The road that starts that way in deciding that some lives have less value and are unworthy of protection, that leads to a culture that tolerates the undeserved killing of over 55 million unborn children in this country. It leads to China’s birth policy that limits the number of children for a family and enforces forced abortion if they deviate from the state-determined ideal....It’s also that culture that allowed the Nazis to to hideously justify the savage slaughter of millions of Jews, disabled people, old people and those with mental illness,” Huckabee said.
Yep, declining to give medical treatment to corpses is just where Hitler started. Give them an inch....
 “Let’s hope and pray that the courts continue to do what every court should do, respect parents over government, family over hospitals and, above all, protect Jahi from them all.”
Meanwhile, in Texas, a hospital is keeping Marlise Munoz on mechanical ventilation against the wishes of her husband and her parents, and against her own previously-expressed wishes. The hospital is acting pursuant to the Texas Advance Directives Act, which prohibits withdrawal of life-support from any pregnant patient. But at least one doctor has declared the patient brain-dead, so the question arises: is a dead person a "patient"? Is mechanical ventilation on a dead person "life support"? Several legal experts, including two involved with drafting the Texas law, have opined in the press that if she is in fact brain-dead, the hospital is misinterpreting the law in keeping the woman attached to mechanical support.

Ms. Munoz collapsed with a pulmonary embolism and ceased breathing. By the time she was discovered by her husband, she had suffered profound brain damage. (Her fetus, which suffered the same lack of oxygen, is likely to be brain-damaged as well.) Her husband, father and mother all agree that Ms. Munoz would not have wanted to be kept on life support in these circumstances.

I wonder if Mike Huckabee thinks that in this case, we ought to respect parents over government and family over hospitals?


  1. Brilliant: ' "We don't know if she's going to make it," he said of the dead girl.'

  2. hi Steve - good job making the case