Jahi McMath, 13, died after a routine tonsillectomy, according to doctors at Children's Hospital Oakland who declared McMath brain-dead on Thursday. The coroner's office was set to remove her body on Tuesday.
Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, doesn't believe her daughter is dead. She told reporters, "I want a second opinion."
Family members and supporters have protested in front of the hospital, chanting, "Don't pull the plug." The hospital apparently and for the time being has walked back from any notion of removing the little girl from life support.
In this case, you can see why a mother who just lost a daughter might not rush to act on doctors' pronouncements that her child is dead.
If I were Jahi's mother, I'd want a second opinion, too. I wouldn't want doctors to rush me. I'd want to make sure that my daughter truly was brain-dead before agreeing to turn off life support.
And maybe I'd want to make time for a miracle. Attorney Christopher Dolan told reporters that a second test confirmed McMath had no brain activity, but the family wants time for "divine intervention."
I want to believe Winkfield is wrong to blame the hospital for "just ruining my child's life and my life." A doctor friend reminds me that no surgery is risk-free. Doctors can do everything right, and still a child can die. While malpractice and negligence exist, Americans can be too quick to assume that when something goes wrong, poor practice is the cause. Estimates of mortality rates in the United States and England range from one death in every 10,000 tonsillectomies to one in every 29,000 cases.
"Our hearts go out to this patient and her family," Children's Hospital pediatrics chief David Durand said in a statement. Because the family has not authorized the hospital to share information about the case, "we are not able to correct misperceptions created about this sad situation."
Misperceptions? I don't know what they are. But I do believe the family never should authorize the release of McMath's medical records. There's no upside.
I keep thinking of Lynne Spalding, 57, the apparently delirious patient who vanished from her San Francisco General Hospital bed in September, only to be found dead in a little-used stairwell 17 days later. The autopsy report didn't pinpoint when Spalding died, but it did report that she died of dehydration and liver problems related to chronic alcoholism.
Spalding family attorney Haig Harris called the coroner's finding "a cheap shot and a non-medical one at that."
No lie. A patient disoriented by a urinary tract infection died lost and alone as her frantic family begged authorities to search for her. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's office, which is responsible for hospital security, failed to search the stairwell thoroughly. Spalding died. Then her family had to endure the medical examiner's implication that her death was due to a bad lifestyle choice, not an unconscionable security failure.
When I asked him about the McMath family's decision not to release the girl's medical records, Spalding attorney Harris told me, "I can understand why the family has told the hospital not to say anything."
In the real world, there are too many people ready to blame the victim for an outcome that clearly was not the victim's fault.