(WSJ) Brendan P. Foht: Is 13-Year-Old Jahi McMath Alive or Dead?

The sad story of Jahi McMath, a 13-year-old girl in Oakland, Calif., who went into cardiac arrest after complications from a tonsillectomy last month and was declared brain dead on Dec. 12, has brought public attention to the difficult moral, legal and spiritual questions that all families face when a loved one is dying. A judge has ordered that after Jan. 7, Children’s Hospital can take Jahi off life support.

To Nailah Winkfield, Jahi’s mother, the insistence by doctors that her child has already died clashes with her belief that, in God’s eyes, as long as her child’s heart is beating, Jahi is still alive. As family members search for another facility to care for her, they have also pursued a legal battle to stop doctors from removing the ventilator that keeps her breathing. The family argues that the hospital’s decision to declare Jahi dead is a violation of Ms. Winkfield’s religious freedom.

Determining when a patient has died is just one of the controversies surrounding end-of-life medical care….

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