December 18th, 2013
10:15 AM ET

Family Wants To Keep Life Support For Girl Brain Dead After Tonsil Surgery

Who gets to decide when to end life support when a person is brain dead?

The mother of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, who was declared brain dead Thursday, three days after undergoing surgery to remove her tonsils, said Tuesday that the family should make the call. CNN's Stephanie Elam reports.

"I don't want her off life support because I really feel like she can wake up," Nailah Winkfield told CNN's Piers Morgan. "I feel like it's just been a rough week for her and, if they just give her some more time, then she'll be able to wake up."

Jahi's family has presented Children's Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, California, with a cease-and-desist letter aimed at preventing the hospital from taking her off a ventilator, attorney Christopher B. Dolan said Tuesday.

"If the hospital wants to terminate Jahi's life, they should go to court and get a judge to authorize that, not pressure a parent into signing a document in the middle of the night or telling them at 8:30 tomorrow morning your child will be (dead)," he told CNN.

Doctors had recommended the tonsillectomy to treat Jahi's sleep apnea, weight gain, inability to concentrate, short attention span and uncontrolled urination, her uncle Omari Sealey told CNN on Monday in a telephone interview.

"They said that she would have more energy, focus more, lose weight, and the urinating would stop," he said.

The surgery, which occurred December 9, initially appeared to have gone well, said Sandy Chatman, Jahi's grandmother who is herself a nurse and saw the girl in the recovery room.

"She was alert and talking, and she was asking for a Popsicle because she said her throat hurt," Chatman said.

But Jahi was then moved to the intensive-care unit, and her relatives were denied access to the eighth-grader for 30 minutes; when they finally were allowed to see her, they knew something was wrong. "Upon entry, they saw that there was way too much blood," Chatman said.

"We kept asking, 'Is this normal?'" Sealey said. "Some nurses said, 'I don't know,' and some said, 'Yes.' There was a lot of uncertainty and a lack of urgency."

Sealey said that when Chatman noticed that her granddaughter's oxygen levels were dangerously low, she called for help.

But Jahi went into cardiac arrest. The medical staff performed chest compressions to revive her and gave her clotting medications, but nothing worked.

On Tuesday, a CT scan revealed that two-thirds of Jahi's brain was swollen.

Sealey said that Jahi's brain had been deprived of oxygen. "Now she is 100% brain damaged," he said. "Medically dead."

CNN could not independently confirm Sealey's account.

When asked about the case, hospital spokeswoman Melinda Krigel cited privacy laws.

A statement from the hospital's chief of pediatrics, Dr. David Durand, read: "Our hearts go out to this patient and her family. Unfortunately, we have not been authorized by the family to share information with the public about this matter. Consequently, we are not able to correct misperceptions created about this sad situation.

"Nonetheless, we want to assure the community that we are doing everything in our capacity to provide support to the grieving family. We have been caring for children in this community for over 100 years and have a longstanding commitment to delivering the highest quality care for all."

Dr. Lisa Thebner, a pediatrician in private practice in New York who was not involved in the case, said excessive bleeding - though rare - is not unheard of in such operations, given that the tonsils are removed from the back of the throat, an area rich in blood vessels.

Still, she said, "This was a highly unusual complication."

When told that his niece was brain dead, Sealey said the entire family went into "complete devastation."

"We pray over her daily," Sealey said. "We kiss her. I charge her iPod and make sure it is in her ears every night when I sleep next to her."

But he said he had accepted that she was legally dead.

An official from the Oakland coroner's office told CNN that Jahi's death was reported Thursday to the office.

"Once a death is reported to us, we have a duty and responsibility to immediately proceed to where the body lies, examine the body, make identification, make inquiry into the circumstances, manner, and means of death, and, as circumstances warrant, either order its removal for further investigation or disposition, or release the body to the next of kin," the official said, quoting California law.

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December 3rd, 2013
10:40 AM ET

Rights Group Seeking "Legal Person" Status For Chimps

Should a captive chimpanzee have the same rights as a "legal person"?

That's the debate set to unfold after an activist group filed lawsuits on behalf of four chimpanzees, asking the New York Supreme Court to grant them the "right to bodily liberty."

“In some ways it's a classic habeas corpus case, positioned as an example of wrongful imprisonment,” brought on by the Nonhuman Rights Project, reports CNN’s John Berman.

The group wants chimpanzees in captivity to be released based on scientific evidence proving that the animals are very "self aware."

"When we go to court on behalf of the first chimpanzee plaintiffs, we'll be asking judges to recognize, for the first time, that these cognitively complex, autonomous beings have the basic legal right to not be imprisoned," said Steven M. Wise, founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project. 

According to the group, the four chimpanzees are all held in New York state:

• Tommy, 26, is living in a cage on a trailer lot in Gloversville.

• Kiko, 26, formerly worked in the entertainment industry and is now living in Niagara Falls on private property, where he is caged.

• Hercules and Leo, two young males, are owned by New Iberia Research Center and used in a locomotion research experiment in the Anatomy Department at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook.

"Not long ago, people generally agreed that human slaves could not be legal persons, but were simply the property of their owners," Wise said. "We will assert, based on clear scientific evidence, that it's time to take the next step and recognize that these nonhuman animals cannot continue to be exploited as the property of their human 'owners.' "

Neither the owner of Tommy nor the owner of Kiko has responded to CNN's requests for comment.

But Stony Brook University spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said the university "has not seen any legal papers related to this matter and therefore is unable to comment."

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