Jahi McMath is a 13 year-old California girl who was recently declared brain dead after a routine surgery went wrong. Jahi’s family has been engaged in a high profile legal battle in order to keep their daughter on life support. Meanwhile, in Texas, a woman is being kept alive, against her family’s will, by a hospital determined to save the life of the fetus inside her. Both of these tragic cases illustrate the confusion that can surround end of life care.
Jahi McMath underwent an elective tonsillectomy to help her with her sleep apnea on December 9, 2012. Tragically, something went wrong during the surgery and she experienced intense hemorrhaging and cardiac arrest. Childrens Hospital Oakland declared Jahi brain dead on December 12. Jahi’s family members argued that their daughter was not dead, since her heart was still beating, and went to court to stop the hospital from removing life support. On Monday, December 30, a judge extended the life support until January 7. On January 5 she was taken to a private facility.
On November 26, Erick Munoz found his pregnant wife Marlise unconscious on the kitchen floor of their home. He rushed her to the hospital where she was declared brain dead. Despite Marlise’s oral expressions of her wish to not be kept alive through the use of machines, Texas law prohibits withholding life support from pregnant women. Marlise was only 14 weeks into her pregnancy. Her husband wants to respect Marlise’s wishes to be kept off life support and he is worried about raising the baby alone, particularly since it is unclear how long the fetus was kept without oxygen. Mr. Munoz filed a lawsuit on January 14 arguing that his wife is dead, and is therefore no longer covered by Texas law and no longer a patient of the hospital.
While the particularly heartbreaking nature of these cases has generated many news stories, situations similar to these happen to families every day. This is why it is so important to make sure your family knows and understands your wishes for end-of-life care. Oregonians can express their wishes regarding end-of-life care through the Advanced Directive Form. This form allows you to give instructions to your family in a number of areas including life support and tube feeding. It also allows you to appoint a family member or friend as your health care representative, so that they can make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. The unfortunate stories of Jahi and Marlise show just how confusing it can be for families when they lose a loved one. You can make it easier on your own family by making your wishes clear through an Advanced Directive.