Give 'em time: The problem with diagnoses of 'brain death'

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Charlie Butts (

elderly patientAn expert on brain death is calling for more study and respect for the wishes of family members of a patient diagnosed with the condition.

A major case that made recent headlines involved Jahi McMath of Oakland, California, who recently died. Five years ago she had oral surgery that went awry at Children's Hospital Oakland and suffered brain damage. Doctors declared her brain dead and wanted to remove life support, but her mother fought through courts to have her transferred to New Jersey where she demonstrated progress. The family had her returned home and treated her there until she died.

Bobby Schindler of Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network says the definition of brain death is flawed and needs to be revisited.

"It was research by JAMA [Journal of the American Medical Association] that came out where they showed, I believe it was, 400 or 500 discrepancies among hospitals in the way that they determine brain death," he shares with OneNewsNow. "So we can see clearly that the brain death diagnosis is problematic."

The latest debate in the medical community has been stirred in part by the McMath case. Schindler says neuro scientists now understand that in cases involving brain damage, time is needed for healing.

"It seems to me that these decisions are being made awfully quick, sometimes hours and even days from the initial assessment," he observers, "and these patients more than anything need time – particularly if the parents are asking for it. The parents have every right to request more time and be afforded more time if, in fact, that's what they want."

The only other alternative that parents then have requires an uphill, expensive battle in court. One problem is that once there is a brain death diagnosis, hospitals want to cease assistance and most health insurance stops paying.

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