Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics
Medicine Icon Medicine
Neuroscience & Mind Icon Neuroscience & Mind

Wesley Smith Visits Jahi McMath

Wesley Smith

Jahi McMath is a neurologically disabled young woman who, like Schrödinger’s cat, is, or has been, both dead and alive. Our colleague Wesley Smith visited the patient and offers a powerful account for First Things.

In California, Jahi McMath is legally dead. In New Jersey, she is legally alive. Now, the deceased — or profoundly disabled — teenager is the subject of litigation that could make history.

Wesley witnessed what appeared to be a response on Jahi’s part to a request that she move her thumb and index finger — “I nearly jumped out of my shoes,” he reports. I think I would, too.

He has changed his mind about her status.

If Jahi is not — or, perhaps better, no longer — brain dead, this may be an unprecedented event, as there are no known cases of a properly diagnosed brain-dead patient experiencing restored neurological function. And I am stunned that the medical and bioethics communities generally show such a pronounced lack of curiosity about Jahi’s situation. True, there have been rare cases of the bodies of brain-dead people not deteriorating over time. But surely the other factors described by [Dr. Alan] Shewmon and the videos should pique their interest.

Perhaps it is just a case of “experts” not wanting to know — because if Jahi isn’t dead, it would have epochal legal, social, medical, and scientific ramifications. But so what? Jahi deserves justice. If alive, she is a full and equal member of the moral community.

I hope that several prominent neurologists without a stake in the situation will step forward and volunteer to examine Jahi — and not just for a day or two but over an extended period of time, to test her brain and body functions thoroughly and determine whether she does indeed respond to requests. Then, if she lacks even one criterion for brain death, Jahi’s California death certificate should be revoked — let the chips fall where they may.

No longer brain dead? This is quite remarkable and testifies among other things to the tenacious commitment of Jahi’s mother, Nailah, whom Wesley also interviewed, to “choose life” on behalf of her daughter. Read the rest here.

Image credit: vectorization: BomBom (Own work based on: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.