California mother gets custody of brain-dead girl

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 03, 2014 5:42 PM
California mother gets custody of brain-dead girl

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The body of a 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain-dead after complications from a tonsillectomy was released to her mother on Sunday, according to the Oakland hospital where she was being treated.

Children's Hospital and Research Center chief of pediatrics David Durand said in a statement the coroner in Oakland has given Latasha Winkfield custody of Jahi McMath's body and that her destination is unknown, according to a hospital statement.

"She is safely out of Children's," tweeted Chris Dolan, an attorney for the family, on Sunday evening.

Jahi's family reached an agreement on Friday with the hospital allowing her to be moved to a different facility if they did so before 5 p.m. local time on Tuesday, when a restraining order keeping the hospital from removing her from life support is set to expire.

McMath was admitted to Children's Hospital on December 9 to have her tonsils removed and for other procedures to address sleep apnea. After the surgery, she went into cardiac arrest and suffered brain swelling.

The hospital declared her brain-dead three days later, and made plans to remove her from the ventilator, but her family has fought in state and federal court to keep her on life support.

The case has drawn international attention, as well as support from relatives of Terri Schiavo, who died in Florida in 2005 after a 15-year battle over whether to keep her body alive in a persistent vegetative state.

"I have everything in place, I just need to get it moving," Chris Dolan, an attorney for the family, told KPIX 5 in San Francisco on Sunday.

He said McMath will be moved "come hell or high water" before the deadline, though he did not elaborate.

To move the girl, her family needed to provide transportation and find a facility willing to take her, both the hospital and the family have said.

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A Long Island, New York, extended-care facility, the New Beginnings Community Center, has offered to care for the child. But it was not immediately clear if McMath's family had accepted the offer, and Dolan could not immediately be reached for further comment.

McMath's lungs and heart are only continuing to function because of air being forced in and out of her body by the ventilator, without which her breathing and heartbeat would cease, according to medical experts. Unlike a person in a coma or a vegetative state, McMath lacks any brain activity, rendering her unable to breathe on her own, doctors said.

Hospital officials have said the facility and state health officials are investigating how a routine operation led to McMath's current condition.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Edith Honan and Eric Walsh)