OAKLAND, Calif. — A 13-year-old California girl declared brain dead after tonsil surgery remained on life support Tuesday after a state judge gave her family at least another week to find a place to move her.
Doctors at Children’s Hospital Oakland want to take Jahi McMath off the machines that are keeping her body functioning, saying she will never recover. Her family wants to continue life support, saying they have hope she will still pull through.
Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, hailed the judge’s decision to give them until Jan. 7 before allowing the hospital to withdraw life support as an answer to her prayers and a sign that she has been right to keep fighting for the teen.
With television cameras clustered outside the hospital, the family maintained a vigil as the Monday deadline approached.
When Winkfield heard of the judge’s decision to push back the deadline, she wept and hugged relatives outside the hospital.
She said she does not believe her daughter is dead because her heart is still beating.
Shortly before a previous ruling would have allowed doctors to end life support at 5 p.m. Monday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ordered the hospital to keep Jahi on a ventilator until Jan. 7 to give the family time to file a petition in state appellate court.
Grillo’s ruling Monday is the latest twist in a harrowing legal and medical fight that has reignited a heated debate about when life support should end for a severely brain-damaged person.
Also on Monday, the family’s lawyer filed suit in federal court, requesting that the hospital be compelled to perform a tracheotomy for breathing and to insert a feeding tube — procedures that would allow Jahi to be transferred to a facility willing to care for her. The hospital has said it’s unethical to perform surgery on a person who is legally dead.
Sam Singer, a hospital spokesman, said it would comply with the judge’s new order but would oppose any efforts by Jahi’s family to convince a court that she is still alive and entitled to the same rights as a living person.
“We are hopeful we will be successful so this tragedy can end,” Singer said.
He also dismissed claims by Jahi’s relatives that she has shown signs of life, saying any muscle activity was an involuntary muscle reflex.
The family’s lawyer, Christopher Dolan, said when he called Jahi’s mother at the hospital about the extension of the deadline, she said hospital staff had cleared family members out of a waiting room as doctors prepared to remove Jahi from the ventilator.
“He’s giving us a meaningful opportunity to seek relief and what I consider a stay of execution,” Dolan said of the judge’s ruling. “I feel like I’m a death row lawyer, and it does not feel good.”