Who gets to decide if you’re dead?
Some would say Jahi McMath is dead; her family insists that she’s alive. And now McMath’s family is taking their case to federal court to have her death certificate overturned. At issue is the question of whether brain death equals final death. McMath’s family doesn’t believe so. The McMath’s are Christians who believe that life endures as long as the heart continues to beat. McMath is on a ventilator, and has been since 2013 after experiencing complications after a surgery.
Technically McMath could remain on the ventilator indefinitely, even if she remains officially brain dead and unresponsive. Her family is taking legal action to overturn the death certificate because they’re not ready to give up on her. But the official death certificate also has consequences for what the family would be allowed to receive as a result of a medical malpractice lawsuit. If McMath is considered to be alive, her family could recover more money to pay for ongoing medical care than if they could she continues to be classified as dead. The case hasn’t yet gone to federal court. The California family has since relocated to New Jersey, where McMath has been released into their care.
The McMath’s family’s case, if and when it goes forward, will likely clarify the limits of belief in a medical malpractice case. Whether Jahi McMath is alive may be in part a religious or personal question. But for the sake of the concrete matter of a medical malpractice settlement, a court may need to determine if McMath is legally dead or alive.
While not every medical malpractice makes headlines, people routinely have their lives turned upside down by medical negligence and doctor error. If this has happened to you or someone you love, you don’t have to carry the burden alone. Contact a medical malpractice lawyer to discuss your options.