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Family of Brain Dead Teen With a Death Certificate Posts New Photo of Girl

Thirteen-year-old Jahi McMath was issued a death certificate in 2013 after a fatal heart attack. Her mother refuses to take Jahi off life support because the girl continues to grow and physically mature. Jahi's mother argues her daughter is still alive.

by Matthew Tinoco
Mar 21 2016, 10:35am

Screen capture via CNN

A new picture of Jahi McMath on Facebook is captioned: "Jahi as healthy and beautiful as ever, proving the naysayers wrong." The naysayers here presumably include the State of California, who consider Jahi legally dead, but not Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, who is featured in the photo, nor her 50,000 fans on the social media website.

Officially, Jahi McMath has been dead for more than two years. The now 15-year-old girl from Oakland was pronounced brain dead in December 2013 following a botched sleep apnea treatment at Children's Hospital Oakland. During the complex surgery involving the removal of her tonsils, adenoids, uvula and cartilage structures from her nose, Jahi went into cardiac arrest and suffered extensive brain hemorrhaging. She was unable to breathe on her own, and lacked both blood flow to the brain and neural electrical activity.

The decision to issue Jahi a death certificate was made after three independent neurologists concluded that the 13-year old girl met the appropriate criteria for legal brain death. Jahi's family insisted their daughter was still alive.

The declaration of death means a person's body must be removed from life-support. This what was supposed to happen to Jahi in January of 2014.

But it didn't happen, and Winkfield managed to make the necessary arrangements with the Alameda County Sheriff's Coroner's Bureau to have the official 'remains' released to the family before Jahi was unhooked from life support.

Winkfield organized to have Jahi's still-on-life-support body transported to New Jersey, a state that has a religious exemption clause for brain death. Jahi is still in New Jersey as of this writing, where she receives in-home care.

In December of 2015, McMath's family filed a civil rights lawsuit against the State of California arguing that the state must reverse McMath's declaration of death. The 57-page lawsuit includes expert opinions that Jahi is, in fact, alive more than two years after she was declared dead.

The crucial components of lawsuit rest on evidence that Jahi is maturing. Since being declared brain-dead, Jahi has begun her menstrual cycle and shown other signs of puberty. None of her organs are decaying and, barring the ventilator and feeding tube, her body is continuing to grow as normal.

Jahi and her mother via Facebook

The fact that Jahi menstruates is crucial. Dr. Alan Shewmon, an emeritus professor of Neurology at UCLA, writes in an appendix to the court case that menstruation indicates Jahi's pituitary gland is functional and active. Shewmon believes this fact alone should be enough for the state to revise its declaration of death, given a person who is actually brain dead wouldn't have the glandular function to prompt the development showing in Jahi's body.

Winkfield wants the death certification reversed so that Jahi can return to California, where her family can surround and support her as they explore more treatment options.

The federal civil rights lawsuit is presently working its way through the court system. This past week, Alameda County filed a motion to dismiss against the family, following the State of California's motion filed just a week before. Both of these are scheduled for consideration on May 12th of this year in a federal courthouse in San Francisco.

Jahi and her mother via Facebook

Jahi's family continue to routinely post updates on their Facebook page. Along with pictures, the family has posted several videos that appear to show Jahi responding to verbal commands asking her to move her hands and feet. Though people with brain-death can technically move, doctors argue that Jahi's motions are "spinal reflex movements," not generated in the brain.

Winkfield successfully Jahi moved New Jersey, a state that has a religious exemption clause for brain death, where she receives in home care while still on her life-support machine.

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