On December 9, 13-year-old Jahi McMath underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital Oakland to remove her tonsils. It was supposed to have been a routine procedure intended to cure a sleep apnea problem. But after the surgery, she coughed up blood and went into cardiac arrest. On December 12, Jahi was declared brain dead. (CNN)
But this sad case has gotten even sadder. Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, will not consent to removing life support technology. She says: "I just feel my daughter is trapped inside of her body, just screaming to get out of there." "I will not let them pull the plug on my child." Ms. Winkfield even started a Facebook page called "Keep Jahi Mcmath on life support."
Furthermore, the family has served the hospital with a "cease and desist letter" that says the hospital does not have the family’s consent to remove life support without permission. The letter from attorney Christopher Dolan said that "no action" should be taken regarding the life and death of Jahi McMath until there can be a "judicial termination."
I have not seen Dolan's letter. But families almost always lose these sorts of cases. California law is uncertain in lots of situations, like dialysis for a vegetative patient. But it does permit healthcare providers to unilaterally stop treatment for a dead patient. Yes, some short-term accommodation is appropriate. But ultimately, family consent is not required.