An Oakland family whose 13-year-old daughter has been declared brain dead after experiencing complications following a tonsillectomy is hoping to celebrate Christmas with her at Children's Hospital after a judge ordered hospital officials to keep her connected to a breathing machine. As her family sat stone-faced in the front row of the courtroom, an Alameda County judge yesterday called for Jahi McMath to be independently examined by Paul Graham Fisher, the chief of child neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine; that exam happened yesterday and may continue into today. The judge also ordered the hospital to keep Jahi on a ventilator until Dec. 30, or until further order from the court.
Earlier yesterday, Christopher Dolan, the family's attorney, vowed to keep Jahi hooked to the ventilator through Christmas and said he would file an appeal if the judge orders her removed from the machine today. A medical ethics expert not involved in Jahi's case tells the AP that once brain death has been declared, a hospital is under no obligation to keep a patient on a ventilator. Often families confuse brain death with a coma or a permanent vegetative state, he says: "A coma is like a television that has a picture with a lot of interference. There's brain activity, but something's not right. A permanent vegetative state is when the screen is all snow. Brain death is when the set is unplugged. There is nothing on the screen." Keeping Jahi on a ventilator is also likely to cost thousands of dollars a day, and, because she has been declared brain dead, is unlikely to be covered by health insurance. (Read more Jahi McMath stories.)