Brain-dead California girl ordered kept on ventilator for week longer

By Laila Kearney

OAKLAND, Calif (Reuters) - The family of a California girl who was declared brain dead after complications from a tonsillectomy won an 11th-hour court order on Monday, requiring doctors to keep her connected to a breathing machine for at least another week.

Under the latest court order in the case, doctors at Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland are barred from taking 13-year-old Jahi McMath off a ventilator without her family's consent before 5 p.m. local time on January 7, relatives and hospital officials said.

"This is a tragedy that has been postponed for another week," hospital spokesman Singer told reporters outside the hospital after family members announced the ruling, though it was not immediately clear which court issued the ruling.

Court documents posted electronically show the family filed suit in U.S. District Court in northern California on Monday seeking a temporary restraining order to keep Jahi connected to the machine that has kept her heart and lungs going for more than two weeks.

The lawsuit claimed that hospital's planned "removal of cardiopulmonary support over the objections" of the girl's mother, and against her religious principles, amounts to an infringement of religious freedom and privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution.

The latest court action extends a previous deadline of 5 p.m. local time on Monday, December 30, which was set by an Alameda County Superior Court judge last week after two pediatric neurologists testified that Jahi lacked any brain activity and was thus beyond recovery.

Family members, refusing to accept Jahi's recovery as impossible, have sought to have her moved to a licensed long-term treatment center in New York, and relatives said they had raised $20,000 in donations needed to pay for a cross-country airlift.

Jahi's grandmother Sandra Chatman, herself a registered nurse, told reporters outside the hospital Monday afternoon that the girl had started to move her legs and appeared to be responding to voices of loved ones around her.

The girl's uncle Omar Sealey also said Jahi was responding to her mother's voice and touch and that he had video to prove it. "We have a pediatrician who has seen Jahi who has sworn that she is not dead," Sealey told reporters.

The hospital has said it would not stand in the way of Jahi's being moved to another facility. But officials there also refused last week to perform additional procedures that might be required, such as doing a tracheotomy and implanting gastric tubes in her body before a transfer.

Asked whether it were possible for Jahi to be showing any signs of life at this point, the hospital spokesman said, "It would be wrong and cruel for anyone to suggest that Jahi McMath is alive." Singer added: "The sad truth is that nothing could bring her back."

According to medical experts, Jahi'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. Unlike an individual in a coma or a vegetative state, Jahi lacks any brain activity whatsoever, rendering her unable to breathe on her own, doctors said.

A Bay Area attorney for the family, Christopher Dolan, could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday afternoon.

Jahi was admitted to the hospital on December 9 for surgery to remove her tonsils as a means of treating her sleep apnea. Shortly after the procedure, she began to bleed severely, suffered a heart attack and brain swelling, Dolan has said. Hospital officials declared her brain dead on December 12.

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Ken Wills)