For many families of color who do not have deep pockets and friends and families in high places, interactions with police, the judicial system and even the hospitals are often problematic – even at their best.
Instead, people rely on their faith, their belief that God, not money and not officials or experts, makes the ultimate decisions that determine everyone’s lives.
People survive because they believe what others say is impossible is often possible.
The actions of Nailah Winkfield, mother of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, represent this truth. They fought for their daughter all her life, and they continue to fight for her because they rely on their faith.
Jahi underwent tonsil surgery at Children’s Hospital in Oakland on Dec. 9 and soon after experienced complications and went into cardiac arrest.
Three days later, on Dec. 12th, the hospital declared she was brain dead.
An Alameda County Superior Court Judge allowed numerous outside doctors to conduct tests, and all came to the same conclusion that Jahi could not breathe on her own and all brain activity had ceased.
Therefore, she was legally dead.
This is where the ethical debate begins. Though her heart is still beating, the declaration of brain death made it a coroner’s case, supporting Children’s Hospital stance that the young girl should be removed from the ventilator.
The family of Jahi did not accept the verdict of those who were responsible for their daughter’s condition and prays that with proper nutrition and time, she might possibly recover.
The battle between Children’s Hospital and Jahi’s family intensified because of Winkfield’s faith and unwillingness to pull the plug.
Sam Singer, spokesperson for the hospital, said, “No amount of hope, prayer or medical procedures will bring her back.”
But the questions remain: Can a hospital infringe on someone’s religious beliefs if they do not accept a medical decision? What is a hospital’s responsibility to confer and attempt to reach consensus with the family?
And why was the hospital in such a hurry to pull the plug?
Some of these questions were raised by Oakland, Civil Rights Attorney John Burris, speaking Tuesday at a forum called “Race Matters” sponsored by the Oakland Unified School District.
Having dealt with a similar situation in his own life, Burris said he understands what the family of Jahi McMath is going through.
He said the family was not properly advised and that the hospital was probably “quick” to end Jahi’s life without working closely with the family.
According to Burris, at least part of the driving force behind ending Jahi’s life support so quickly is “economics.”
If a child dies from medical malpractice, the hospital is limited to a maximum payout of $250,000, he said, but if the child were to live and needed continuing care, the cost to the hospital potentially could be unlimited.
The hospital’s position in essence, he said, is that, “You can have your religious belief, but you can’t make us pay for it.”
Further, the hospital’s perceived insensitivity to Jahi’s family has become a major issue among many in the community.
Chas Jackson is a former after school instructor teacher at the school Jahi attended and said he noticed the hospital’s defensiveness when the family did not accept the hospital’s decision.
It was as if the hospital administrators “threw up their hands” and tried to remove themselves from the situation, Jackson said.
“It came off as tacky and tasteless on Children’s Hospital’s part, and only damaged my shining image of their establishment,” he said.
Children’s Hospital seemed to be more worried about a pending lawsuit than the fate of Jahi and the grief of her family, he added.
Christopher Dolan, the family’s attorney, says Jahi’s body is in very bad shape and is deteriorating. Medical experts say this commonly occurs in brain dead patients.
However, Winkfield has said that as long as Jahi’s heart is beating she is alive, and the family will continue to fight.
“God has the final say, not the doctors,” she said.