Christopher Dolan, the San Francisco lawyer representing the family of Jahi McMath, appeared today on a Huffington Post Live panel to discuss the brain-dead Oakland teenager and the ethical and legal issues surrounding the case.
He said that while it would be inappropriate for him to offer a medical opinion, "There's always hope that there could be life that will be returned to Jahi. ... There are several documented cases where there have been individuals who have been diagnosed with brain death who have evolved from that."
Jahi, 13, was declared brain dead last month after surgery at Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland. Her cardiopulmonary function has been sustained by a ventilator since then. Dolan won a court order on behalf of Jahi's mother, Latasha Winkfield, preventing the hospital from removing the ventilator, and Jahi was transferred last week to another facility.
Dolan acknowledged after the move that Jahi "is in very bad shape." But he later reported via Twitter that doctors had performed a tracheostomy and insert a feeding tube, and that physicians "are optimistic that her condition has stabilized and that her health is improving from when she was taken from CHO."
Since Jahi is legally dead, Children's Hospital had refused to perform those procedures.
Dolan argued today that the case can't be fully understood without considering the religious faith of Jahi's family and the New Testament's story of Jesus Christ:
I don't think you can separate the family's beliefs from the family's hopes. And I think that the context of this case as it happened during the holiday season, the Christmas season for them, is important, because we were praying to a god who brought his son here by a miracle, who then committed miracles including raising of the dead, who died and was resurrected by a miracle. So when you bring in their beliefs as Christian beliefs, you have to call your own beliefs into question and wonder, 'Do we practice a fiction, which is that miracles happened only once, a long time ago? Or do we practice a real belief?'
Asked what the family's "end game" is in the case, Dolan said: "Well, I think if there's not a radical recovery, the family's going to evaluate what the condition of Jahi is and have an opportunity to then make a decision. The mother has publicly stated that if her daughter deteriorates or if her daughter becomes in pain, that she will make the decision as any responsible parent would to remove her from the ventilator."
Doctors consulted about the case inside and outside Children's Hospital have said the condition of the girl's body will degrade over time despite any intervention. A summary of one opinion reported by the Los Angeles Times:
The deterioration of Jahi's body is now the only possible course and "became inevitable the moment she died," according to a court declaration from Dr. Heidi Flori, a critical care physician at Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland, which had sought to remove the teen from the ventilator after she was declared brain dead Dec. 12.
"The medical team and I believe that additional and more dramatic signs of the body's deterioration will continue to manifest over time, regardless of any procedures and regardless of any heroic measures that any facility in the country might attempt," Flori said in the declaration filed in U.S. District Court.
"Mechanical support and other measures taken to maintain an illusion of life where none exists cannot maintain that illusion indefinitely," she added.
Here's the video from Huffington Post Live: