Jahi McMath Has Left Us With So Many Questions
Teenager Jahi McMath, who had been declared brain-dead by specialists in 2013, breathed her last in California on 22 June. McMath had been at the centre of a religious and medical debate over brain death in the US since last four-and-half years. The then 13-year-old had suffered from irreversible brain damage during a routine surgery to remove her tonsils. As per a Time report, several specialists had concurred that Jahi was brain-dead, after conducting neurological tests on her. A coroner had even signed her death certificate.
However, McMath’s mother Nailah Winkfield refused to accept this conclusion, citing her Christian beliefs, she continued to care for her daughter. She flew her daughter to New Jersey, where she remained on life support. Winkfield reported that her daughter showed signs of life through toe wriggles and finger movements. But she suffered from internal bleeding and kidney issues following and surgery recently and hence had to be removed from life support. While McMath will finally be at peace now, she has left us with many questions, none of which have an easy answer.
Science, Religion and a mother’s love
According to an article in People’s magazine, Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, told the Associated Press in 2014 that he knew of no cases of a brain-death determination being reversed. From the scientific point of view, the diagnosis of brain death is as blunt as “death”.
Science and religion have always tussled on this argument. Many religious groups rallied behind Winkfield and raised funds for McMath’s care. But beyond this tussle is the dilemma of the person who receives this diagnosis for a dear one. How does a parent accept ‘brain-dead’ as diagnosis and pull the plug on his/her child? How does a life partner give up on their other half? Or a child accept the death of a parent when they can still hear the heart beating?
Winkfield did what any mother would have done, or so says the parent in me.
For a medico, it is easy to hand over a brain-dead diagnosis. All it takes is some accurate neurological tests. But when I switch my position, to be the one receiving that diagnosis, it becomes extremely difficult.
“I can go to sleep knowing I did everything possible for my kid and no one can take that away from me.”
Perhaps this question won’t let me sleep easy tonight. It will nudge my conscience and rationality till exhaustion wins over it. But one thing is for sure. Nailah Winkfield is a brave woman. She quit her job, sold her house and raised money to keep her daughter on life support for nearly five years. Only a mother can retain hope in such a situation. After McMath was put off life support, Winkfield said. “I can go to sleep knowing I did everything possible for my kid and no one can take that away from me.”
Whether or not I agree with her decision to keep her daughter on life support for so long, my heart goes out to her as a mother. I hope she is able to reassemble her life, which was solely centred around fighting for her daughter for so many years.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own
Picture Credit: foxnews.com