Judge Declares Oakland Teen Legally Brain Dead

By Lisa Fernandez
|  Wednesday, Dec 25, 2013  |  Updated 11:48 AM EDT
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A judge ruled Tuesday that a 13-year-old Oakland girl who has been on life support since suffering bleeding and a heart attack following a tonsillectomy ''meets all the criteria of brain death.'' Kris Sanchez reports.

A judge ruled Tuesday that a 13-year-old Oakland girl who has been on life support since suffering bleeding and a heart attack following a tonsillectomy ''meets all the criteria of brain death.'' Kris Sanchez reports.

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A judge ruled Tuesday that a 13-year-old Oakland girl who has been on life support since suffering bleeding and a heart attack following a tonsillectomy "meets all the criteria of brain death."

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo made the ruling Tuesday after he heard testimony from a court-appointed neurologist who examined the eighth grader as part of an ongoing bid by her family to keep her on life support. This was the third doctor to reach that conclusion since Jahi McMath was first declared brain dead nearly two weeks ago.

Although the judge ruled he could not force the hospital to continue the teen's care, an existing restraining order keeps Jahi on life support until 5 p.m. Monday, giving the family time to appeal his decision.

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Judge Appoints Doc to Review Jahi McMath Case

The family of a 13-year-old Oakland girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy led a prayerful march on Monday to the courthouse where a judge selected an independent doctor to determine whether Jahi McMath shows any signs of life. Cheryl Hurd reports.

Supporters to March for Jahi McMath As Independent Doctor Chosen to Review "Brain Dead" Teen

The family of a 13-year-old Oakland girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy organized what they hoped would be a peaceful and prayerful march to a courthouse on Monday where a judge selected an independent doctor to determine whether Jahi McMath shows any signs of life. Chase Cain reports.
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The judge said he doubts that he will be the final word on the matter and has expressed his condolences to the family. He also said he respects the family's religious beliefs and hopes that those beliefs will help them through this difficult time.

The decision came the same day Stanford School of Medicine Chief of Pediatric Neurology  Dr. Paul Graham Fisher, who was appointed by a judge to be an independent reviewer into the case of the eighth grader, presented his findings before the court. Children's Hospital of Oakland, where Jahi received the tonsillectomy, has argued in court papers that the teen "should be taken off life support" if Fisher returned with a determination that she is brain dead.

"Because Ms. McMath is dead, practically and legally, there is no course of medical treatment to continue or discontinue," the hospital's paper stated. "To be blunt, Children's is merely preserving Ms. McMath's body from the natural post mortem course of events. There is no legal, ethical or moral requirement that it continue to do so or that the family consent in the decision to stop doing so."

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McMath's mother, Latasha "Nailah" Winkfield, had secured a court-ordered stay, which means Jahi was to remain on a ventilator until at least Dec. 30. The judge did not immediately rule on what will happen after that at the time.

Much of Tuesday's court hearing was closed to the public, as some of the testimony involved the medical history of a child.

Jahi's family wants an additional evaluation by Paul Byrne, a pediatric professor at the University of Toledo. They say they are devout Christians and their faith leads them to believe that because the girl’s heart is beating, she is alive -- even if she is on a ventilator. They say they are still waiting for a miracle.

Jahi underwent three surgeries at once on Dec. 9: An adenotonsillectomy; a uvulopalatopharyngloplasty, or UPPP, which is tissue removal in the throat; and submucous resection of bilateral inferior turbinates, which is nasal obstruction. The family has previously said the surgery was to help fix Jahi's sleep apnea. About 30 minutes after the surgery, Jahi started coughing up blood and suffered a heart attack. She was declared brain dead for the first time on Dec. 12.

Byrne, the past president of the Catholic Medical Association, presented testimony on "life issues" to nine state legislatures and opposed Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the late medical pathologist who became a leading figure in the assisted suicide movement, on the television program "Cross Fire," according to the website, RenewAmerica.com.

In a phone interview, Byrne told NBC Bay Area on Monday that he was not comfortable speaking about the matter because he hasn't been formally contacted by Jahi's family or their attorney.

Children's Hospital argued in court papers filed on Tuesday that Byrne should not be used as a second independent expert because it's "unnecessary and Dr. Byrne, who is neither a neurologist nor a California physician, is not qualified and has already taken a position on this matter."

NBC Bay Area's Kris Sanchez and Vince Cestone contributed to this report.

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