I have very strong feelings about the use of life support when there is no hope for meaningful recovery. It’s one of those things that my parents and I have talked about many times, and I really need to get a living will so that there is a legal record of my feelings on the subject. How do I feel? I don’t like the idea of machines keeping a person alive when they’re gone. I understand keeping the body going long enough to do organ recovery and keeping it going long enough for family members to say goodbye, but I believe that any minute past that is wrong.
As you may have figured out, the case of Jahi McMath has perturbed me. In case you haven’t heard about it, Jahi went in for a tonsillectomy to help with her severe sleep apnea, but complications occurred. She ended up bleeding severely and going into cardiac arrest. Three doctors, a coroner, and a judge have all declared that she has suffered from brain death. Her family is trying to keep her “alive” so that she can “wake up” and people are supporting this idea. Some have said that she is just in a coma or that she’s in a persistent vegetative state (i.e. what happened with Terri Schiavo) or some other medical term that they are misusing because they are denying the reality that Jahi is dead. A person in a regular coma could wake up. There are even reports of people in vegetative states waking up. There is absolutely no way for a brain dead person to wake up. When the brain stops functioning, that’s the end of the road for the body. The brain is like the body’s motherboard and without it, the body is just a bunch of parts that cannot function without some outward force. Jahi is gone. She’s been gone since she went into cardiac arrest on December 9.
I understand her parents are in denial. I understand that her family doesn’t want to admit that she isn’t there and their desire to be offended that the “insensitive” medical professionals who’ve referred to her as “the body” or other dehumanized terms. The thing is that, to people who understand how this sort of thing works, all that is left is a shell. What they’re holding onto isn’t her. What they’re hoping for isn’t possible. Keeping her hooked up is not only not going to bring her back, it’s only going to prolong their own agony and grief. It is hard enough for a parent to deal with the loss of a child, but for them to pretend like it hasn’t happened and for others to feed into that delusion is only going to make it that much worse for them. Though well meaning, these supporters are just making the situation worse. And doctors like Paul Byrne make it even worse by claiming that declaring someone brain dead is just business.
If Jahi has been examined so many times, including by an independent doctor, and they have found no brain activity, then even a layperson should be able to understand that she is dead. So, when tweets like these appear, I get a bit frustrated:
Prayers go out to Jahi McMath and her family as she was moved to a new facility in hopes she recovers. #JahiMcMath
— Meilani Parsons (@MeilaniParsons) January 6, 2014
— Pamela Schuur (@PamelaSchuur) January 6, 2014
— Marie Shell (@CuriousShell) January 6, 2014
— Glossology (@Glossology) January 6, 2014
No, being hooked up to nutrients doesn’t prove she’s alive. No, she won’t recover. No, she won’t be a viable organ donor. None of this is proof of her being alive and none of it is proof that she will come back. If anything, these statements are ones that come from people who clearly did not get a proper science education. (And, no, there are not only 4 people who think these things. These were just four of the easiest to get to comments.) Her brain isn’t receiving blood flow and, from what I’ve read, her brain is already decomposing. Decomposing as in breaking down and rotting. She is rotting in her head and, when assistance is removed, she will begin rotting elsewhere. This is a gross thing to think about, I know, but this is the reality that is being discussed and debated by people on both sides. She is going to be nothing but a bag of bones and I have to wonder why so many strangers think that keeping her on machines is a cause worth rallying around. You’re not advocating life. You’re advocating wasting resources on a dead body. You’re advocating a prolonged goodbye. This is a cruelty that you are advocating. It is not a worthy fight.