Christopher Dolan, attorney for Jahi McMath’s family, shows an MRI of the 13-year-old Oakland girl during a press conference at Dolan Law Firm in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. Dolan showed photos and a pair of videos where McMath moves her foot and arm in response to the voice of her mother, Nailah Winkfield, in a home in New Jersey. She was declared brain-dead in California after tonsil, throat and nose surgeries to relieve her sleep apnea. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
· May 23: California toddler, declared brain-dead, moved out of country
May 17: Walnut Creek hospital mistakenly diagnoses woman brain-dead
· Dec 23: Jahi McMath: Attorney files another lawsuit on behalf of family
Jahi McMath: Family sues in federal court to have brain-dead girl declared alive
Oct 23: Judge: Jahi McMath’s family can present evidence that she is alive
Jul 29: Exclusive: Jahi McMath’s mother speaks on legal battle over brain death
Mar 3: Jahi McMath: Suit filed against Children’s Hospital Oakland
Jahi McMath: Oakland girl’s family sues hospital, surgeon
Jahi McMath lawsuit: Timeline of events at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland
SAN FRANCISCO — Attorney Chris Dolan got a familiar phone call this past month. It was from a Vacaville family who said their 2-year-old son was declared brain-dead. They planned to fight the diagnosis and wanted the San Francisco lawyer’s help.
Since taking on the case of Jahi McMath, an Oakland teen declared brain-dead in 2013 following complications from tonsil surgery, Dolan has became an unlikely leader in a growing resistance to the medical establishment’s long-standing determination that the loss of brain activity equals death.
Experts say there is a small but noticeable increase in the number of families fighting brain-death diagnoses since Jahi’s family won the legal right to remove their daughter from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland so she could be taken to a facility in New Jersey, where she resides today on a feeding tube and ventilator.
Israel Stinson, 2, of Vacaville, is seen in a YouTube video posted by his parents, in which they say he is responding to his mother’s voice. (YouTube)
“I’m getting calls from people who have a strong feeling that the doctors can’t be trusted and may be seeking to cover something up or put an end to it,” Dolan said this week.
Thaddeus Pope, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, has seen a rise in what he calls brain-death “conflicts.” After Jahi’s case, two families rejected a brain-death diagnosis at San Francisco General Hospital, citing that case, he said.
“There is what you could call the Jahi McMath shadow effect,” Pope said. “It’s casting a shadow; it has had some impact. I don’t know how to quantify it, but based on my discussion with physicians at a number of hospitals, it does seem there’s an uptick.”
Dolan, an attorney who specializes in personal injury cases, said he has worked on seven cases, including some that families do not want publicized.
He was contacted by the Orange County family of Lisa Avila, a mother of seven declared brain-dead and taken off her ventilator in March 2015. Also last year, Mohammad Meshkin reached out to Dolan about his daughter, Anahita Meshkin, who had been in a coma for eight years before being declared brain-dead. The father asked Dolan for help last year, and the attorney helped craft a temporary restraining order to prevent the hospital from removing Anahita from life support.
A Contra Costa Superior Court judge ordered two UC San Francisco neurologists to test the woman May 4, 2015, and both agreed that she was not brain-dead, a difference of opinion that is rare in most of these types of cases.
Dolan, also known for the radio commercials he does with his daughter during sports events, gives families his blueprint for filing restraining orders against hospitals, employing the same road map he used in the Jahi case.
“I’ve created a set of pleadings that people can use to put the brakes on and go to court so they can have some decision time,” the lawyer said. “I also talk to them about (Jahi’s mother’s) experience, about how this has turned her whole life upside down, and how she’s given up everything.”
Jahi McMath, 13, who went in for a routine surgery to get her tonsils removed, is now brain dead after complications post surgery. (Courtesy of the McMath Family)
Unlike a coma, brain death is the loss of all brain function, an irreversible and nationally accepted form of death. Generally, two physicians perform independent tests to see if a patient reacts to stimuli that would indicate some brain stem function, before removing a ventilator to see if the patient attempts to breathe on their own.
Experts say a ventilator can keep a heart beating, and a person declared brain-dead can appear lifelike, but there is no chance they will ever regain brain activity. In most cases, the patient’s family accepts the diagnosis and is given time according to state law to say goodbye.
“I worry that the more these cases begin to appear, the more pressure will come from other parents who say, ‘I don’t accept brain death, either,’ ” said Arthur Caplan, the founding director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University School of Medicine. “It becomes important for the medical field to be responsive to these cases. Not heartless or cruel, but nonetheless try to explain what the concept is, how it’s tested.”
In a recent case, doctors at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center declared 2-year-old Israel Stinson brain-dead after he went into cardiac arrest after an asthma attack, according to court records. His parents, Jonee Fonseca and Nathaniel Stinson, have filed a federal lawsuit — which is still being fought in court — seeking to keep the toddler hooked up to a ventilator. The family’s attorney said they did not want to comment on the case.
“We believe we should have the last say, not a government building or not a corporation,” Stinson said in an online video asking for a hospital to admit their son. “We believe our son is still alive. That should be our choice.”
Similar to Jahi’s case, the family wants to move Israel to another state, presumably New Jersey, the only state where the law allows families to reject brain death on religious grounds. Their attorney, Kevin Snider, said the family has already secured transportation to another state if a hospital will take the child.
“He has been responding recently to his mother’s voice and touch,” Snider said. “We don’t believe this is consistent with a cadaver.”
In a statement, Chris Palkowski, chief of staff at Kaiser in Roseville, said: “Our hearts go out to this family as they cope with irreversible brain death of their son. We continue to offer our support and compassion to the family during this sad time.”
Meanwhile, more than two years after she was declared brain-dead, Jahi remains in a New Jersey apartment, where she is under the care of a nurse and her mother, Nailah Winkfield. Dolan frequently shares Winkfield’s story with the families who call him.
“I’m not this zealot,” he said. “I actually talk to these people. People need to know what they are getting into.”
[5/17/2016, Updated 5/18/2016, David DeBolt, [email protected], http://www.eastbaytimes.com/news/ci_29904560/jahi-mcmath:-brain-death-cases-similar-to-oakland-teen-found-throughout-state Staff writer Matthias Gafni contributed to this report. David DeBolt covers Oakland.]
Doctors are Calling Patients Like Her “Brain Dead,” But It Turns Out That’s False: Commentary
Few topics intrigue me more than why “trends” develop, or, better put, why “givens” that have gone essentially unchallenged suddenly begin to lose their authority.
We’ve written about many of them at NRL News Today, including the ever-so-gradual-acknowledgement found in corners of the Media Establishment that aborting a child who has been diagnosed with a “fatal anomaly” is not automatically a good decision for parents or the child.
Likewise, as an article in the Seattle Times Wednesday illustrates, “More families now challenging doctors’ brain-death diagnoses.”
The caption under the accompanying photo illustrates one major reason why: Anahita Meshkin, who has been in a coma for eight years and had been declared brain dead, lies in bed and is hooked up to machines at her care facility in Walnut Creek, Calif., on May 10.
Doctors now say she is not brain dead.
The other obvious explanation is Jahi McMath, the Oakland, California, teen who was declared brain-dead in 2013 after complications from tonsil surgery. Her family fought back and eventually, a judge allowed Jahi’s family to remove her to a facility in New Jersey. Her family insists she was never brain dead in the first place and continues to show progress.
The family’s attorney, Chris Dolan, “has become an unlikely leader in a growing resistance to the medical establishment’s long-standing determination that the loss of brain activity equals death,” according to reporter David Debolt.
To be sure, the number is not great, but there has been an “uptick.” Of late the most well publicized case is Israel Stinson.
In a recent case, doctors at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center in California declared 2-year-old Israel Stinson brain-dead when he went into cardiac arrest after an asthma attack, according to court records.
His parents, Jonee Fonseca and Nathaniel Stinson, have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to keep the toddler hooked up to a ventilator, which is still being fought in court. The family’s attorney said they did not want to comment on the case.
“We believe we should have the last say, not a government building or not a corporation.
We believe our son is still alive. That should be our choice,” Stinson said in an online video asking for a hospital to admit their son.
This issue is separate but related to the whole issue of how patients with severe brain injuries are treated , or not treated. As we’ve posted just this week, more and more cases have cropped up of people who’d suffered devastating brain injuries–and diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state”–regaining consciousness.
We reported on a story last weekend on CBS Sunday Morning of just such a patient–Dylan Rizzo–and of how he was saved because of his parent’s faithfulness and a neuro- psychologist at Boston’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
“As many as 40% of individuals who have been diagnosed with vegetative state, actually retain some conscious awareness,” said Joseph Giacino. “That’s a fairly alarming number.”
All of these “re-thinkings” are welcomed.
So is the gradual re-thinking taking place about abortion.
[LifeNews.com Note: Dave Andrusko is the editor of National Right to Life News and an author and editor of several books on abortion topics. This post originally appeared in at National Right to Life News Today —- an online column on pro-life issues. Dave Andrusko, May 19, 2016, Washington, DC, http://www.lifenews.com/2016/05/19/doctors-are-calling-patients-like-her-brain-dead-but-it-turns-out-thats-false/ ]