abstract :

Jahi McMath was a 13-year-old girl who was declared brain dead on December 12, 2013, after a hemorrhagic complication following complex oropharyngeal surgery. Her case gained international attention as her mother fought a legal battle to keep her on life support. Upon issuance of a death certificate shortly after the declaration of brain death, Jahi was transferred from California to New Jersey, where the law includes a religious exemption from the neurologic determination of death. There she became statutorily resurrected and was treated as a comatose, living patient for the next four and a half years. During that time, she underwent menarche and other aspects of puberty and developed intermittent responsiveness to commands, documented by eyewitness attestations and multiple home videos. Jahi died on June 18, 2018, from abdominal complications. This article summarizes her clinical history over those intervening years, taken directly from her medical records and personal observation. Her case represents an instance of a false-positive diagnosis of brain death, unquestionably made according to both the pediatric and adult guidelines, reinforced by four false-positive EEGs and a false-positive radionuclide blood flow test. The bioethical consequences of a nonnegligible risk of false-positive declaration of death are profound.