The Right to Life or Death


In Thursday’s Sac Bee:

‘The family of a 13-year-old Northern California girl declared brain-dead after having surgery to remove her tonsils is asking a hospital not to take her off life support during the holidays.

Relatives met with senior officials at Oakland Children’s Hospital on Thursday afternoon to ask them to keep Jahi McMath on life support until after Christmas, but they said hospital officials were not receptive to their request.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, said she asked Dr. David Durand, the chief of pediatrics, how soon he planned to disconnect her daughter from the ventilator.

“Quickly” was his response, she said, adding that he showed “absolutely no compassion at all.”

Jahi’s uncle, Omari Sealey, who was also in the meeting, said Durand was “very rude” and “very cold.”

“He pretty much yelled across the table, ‘She is dead, dead, dead, dead, and we don’t treat the dead,’” Sealey told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.’

As with most life and death issues,  this story is both a right to life issue and a choice issue. The parents of Jahi McMath have chosen to choose life for their little girl, at least through the holidays. If the story of Dr Durand’s action and demeanor proves true, then this man has forgotten the words of the Hippocratic oath. These words are a pledge which he made to care for all patients, no matter what their status.

This is case will be as focal as the Terry Schiavo case from 1990 to 2005, or the Karen Ann Quinlan case from the early 1980s. In the Schiavo case, sadly, her parents and her husband were at odds with each other. The parents wanted her to remain on life support, while her husband wanted her to pass. This involved many legal challenges, including several cases brought before the Supreme Court. Even the federal government was involved, with the passage of emergency legislation by the Congress and signed by President Bush.

In the end, Michael Schiavo won the “right to die” case, even though there was no health care proxy or DNR in place.

In the case of Karen Quinlan, after she fell into a persistent vegetative state in  early 1976 from alleged drug and alchohol abuse at a party, her parents wanted to remove her from life support. The hospital refused and this resulted in a legal battle which was decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court in the parents’ favor. She was removed from life support in 1976 and finally died from pneumonia in 1985.

These two cases are signature precedents which highlight the continuing battles between “right to life” and “right to die” issues in the US to this day. But, in the McMath case, the family is not making an unreasonable request to keep her daughter alive indefinitely. They have asked only that Jahi be kept on life support until early January.

This is not so difficult for the hospital to agree to, especially since the family recognizes that indefinite life support will only hurt Jahi. The family is not looking to set some legal precedent, but only to be granted some compassion by those who have pledged to do so. So why can’t this doctor or the hospital be a little more considerate of the emotional state of the family?

I am sure little Jahi will pass, once she is removed from life support. Why not grant this reasonable request to the family, so that they don’t need to live the rest of their lives of the memory that their daughter died on or around Christmas. That is just horrible.

January will be here soon enough, don’t you agree? May she rest in peace.