The legal dispute over Jahi McMath -- a 13-year-old American girl alleged to be brain dead -- has received renewed attention after a Californian judge ruled she may in fact be alive. A county jury will soon hear new evidence that McMath is healthy, undergoing puberty, and is responsive to oral communication, despite her severe neurological impairment.
This week bioethicist Wesley J Smith weighed into the debate, calling for “Justice for Jahi”. Smith writes that has visited McMath in hospital, and feels there is evidence to suggest that she no longer meets the criteria for brain death. According to Smith, McMath appears to respond to requests from her mother to move her fingers, and video evidence suggests the girl is capable of other autonomous motory operations.
Smith called for a comprehensive expert review of McMath’s neurological state:
“I hope that several prominent neurologists without a stake in the situation will step forward and volunteer to examine Jahi—and not just for a day or two but over an extended period of time, to test her brain and body functions thoroughly and determine whether she does indeed respond to requests. Then, if she lacks even one criterion for brain death, Jahi’s California death certificate should be revoked—let the chips fall where they may.”
Regarding the relatively limited bioethical coverage of the McMath case, Smith remarked:
“I am stunned that the medical and bioethics communities generally show such a pronounced lack of curiosity about Jahi’s situation...Perhaps it is just a case of “experts” not wanting to know—because if Jahi isn’t dead, it would have epochal legal, social, medical, and scientific ramifications. But so what? Jahi deserves justice. If alive, she is a full and equal member of the moral community.”
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