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Brain Dead Declaration Creates a Lawsuit

The issue of when a person can be removed from life support is making headlines in California as a family files a lawsuit.

A 13-year-old girl checked into an Oakland hospital for routine surgery in December of 2013 but complications soon followed for Jahi McMath that made the surgery anything but routine as she began bleeding profusely.

She suffered from brain swelling and cardiac arrest. A few days after the surgery, McMath was declared to be brain dead by the doctors. The designation is important as when a person is declared brain dead hospitals are no longer required to provide life support or other treatment.

However, McMath's mother refused to agree to allow her daughter to be taken off life support.

After a court battle a judge agreed with the doctors and declared McMath brain dead. Her mother continued to believe otherwise and quickly arranged for her daughter to be transferred to New Jersey as that state has a religious exemption that allows families to keep brain dead people on life support for religious reasons.

For two years McMath has continued to "live" in New Jersey on life support and her family insists that she shows signs of not being brain dead, but California has refused to remove the designation. Now, her mother has filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding that California be forced to do so.

Courthouse News Service reported this story in "Family Wants Brain-Dead Girl Declared Alive."

What this case highlights is the importance of advanced health care directives, especially living wills. The one person who does not have a say right now regarding whether she remains on life support is McMath. She is a minor so her parents' wishes would take precedence over hers in any case.

Adults can avoid this situation by visiting an estate planning attorney and making a living will part of an estate plan.

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