A federal judge on Thursday ordered settlement talks between lawyers for a California hospital and a 13-year-old California girl declared brain dead after tonsil surgery.
A federal magistrate will oversee the mandatory talks on Friday between representatives of Children's Hospital Oakland and the family of Jahi McMath, U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown said. Settlement conferences are usually scheduled to expedite court cases or to end them without a trial.
The hospital and Jahi's mother are locked in a harrowing clash over the girl's care. Children's maintains that Jahi is legally dead and that the ventilator keeping her heart pumping should be removed. A state judge originally ordered the hospital to keep the ventilator in place until Dec. 30 at 5 p.m., but an hour before the deadline agreed to extend it until Jan. 7.
The girl's mother, Nailah Winkfield, wants to transfer her to another facility and force the hospital to either to fit Jahi with the breathing and feeding tubes she would need to be moved safely or to allow an outside doctor to perform the surgical procedures.
"At this point, Jahi has not had nutrition for nearly three weeks. She is in desperate need of a tracheostomy tube and a gastric tube,'' Winkfield's lawyer, Christopher Dolan, wrote in a motion filed with Judge Brown on Thursday. "The defendant has responded that ... they will not allow such a procedure to be done and will not write discharge instructions that instruct a physician to carry out such orders.''
Although another federal judge, Chief U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilkens, already has refused to order the hospital to insert the requested gastric and tracheostomy tubes, the dispute over the procedures is likely to figure prominently in Friday's talks.
The hospital's lawyer, Douglas Straus, has said doctors have no legal obligation to operate on the body of a dead person, but that the matter remains irrelevant for now because the family has not named a doctor who is willing to put in the tubes or a facility capable of caring for Jahi.
The issue also is being considered by the state judge who so far has blocked Children's Hospital from removing Jahi's ventilator. Alameda County Superior Court Evelio Grillo has scheduled a hearing for Friday morning so he can speak with the opposing sides about how to handle that part of the case.