“Sometimes Things Are Not As They Seem” – Bishop Finn on Jahi McMath

“Sometimes Things Are Not As They Seem” – Bishop Finn on Jahi McMath January 11, 2014

So many words have been written about Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old California girl who was declared brain-dead after she suffered complications following a tonsillectomy.  Jahi’s parents didn’t believe that and wanted her kept on life support.  This week, Jahi has finally been transferred from Children’s Hospital Oakland to a Catholic care facility where she has received a feeding tube and a tracheal tube to replace the ventilator which has kept her alive since December 9.

Bishop Robert A. Finn

Today Bishop Robert Finn, bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, weighs in.  In a column in the Catholic Key, Bishop Finn talks about his conversation with Dr. Paul A. Byrne, noted expert on brain death, who has attended Jahi at her new facility.  Bishop Finn wrote:

What moved me most was something I had not yet read in any media accounts:  He told me that Jahi was not totally unresponsive–but rather, when touched or talked to by family members, she moves her arms and/or legs.  I must say that this is not what I imagined in the case of someone who is dead.

Indeed, Dr. Byrne noted some other indicators that the teen is, in fact, still alive.  I quoted him over on the Kresta in the Afternoon blog:

Dr. Paul Byrne, who examined Jahi while she was still a patient at Children’s Hospital, said at the time that she was alive–despite the hospital’s insistence that Jahi was “brain dead.”  In the state of California, loss of brain activity is equated with legal death; but Dr. Byrne reported that her heart was beating on its own, her organs were functioning and she was responding to family members with purposeful movements.  He was certain that she was healing from her tonsillectomy–and healing, Dr. Byrne noted, happens only in a living person.

(I also, by the way, offered an explanation of what the Catholic Church teaches about brain-death You can read a helpful article from the National Catholic Bioethics Center here.)

Jahi McMath

Children, according to Dr. Byrne, have a higher rate of recoverability from brain injuries.  Their brains are more “pliable” and can heal in ways that often surprise the experts.  The observation of reactions (movement of arms or legs) like those reported to be seen in Jahi, lends credence to the possibility that, though there are no measurable brain waves, brain activity may still exist and life may still be present.

Bishop Finn’s hope that Jahi McMath might awake and that her family might once again enjoy the blessing of her company is one which we all share.  There is no guarantee of that, however.  Bishop Finn closes his column with a reminder that we should pray for Jahi and for her family, and pray that science will always base its decisions upon moral principles:

As I write this so much is changing, and by the time you read this so much may have occurred in the life of Jahi and her family. But I still ask you this: Pray for Jahi and for this family. Pray also that authentic moral principles will be upheld in the midst of a scientific endeavor which is always complicated, but which requires many, many prudential decisions. We must work hard and speak out clearly for the protection of human life at all its moments.

Mary, Mother of God, and our Mother, pray for us.

*     *     *     *     *

I’ve written before about the near-death experiences of people who experienced serious brain trauma.  One is Dr. Eben Alexander, an atheist whose experience of God while comatose led to his conversion; the other is three-year-old Colton Burpo, whose dramatic story will be told in a new movie, Heaven Is for Real, opening in theatres on Easter 2014.

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  • Lisa Anastasia

    i would suggest to those who read this, please place a Monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament HOST inside it. and have 24 hour adoration in her bedroom. I do believe she will wake up. I was stricken with cancer for 3 weeks and was healed when I touched the HOST from the Monstrance on my right hand and was slain in the Spirit. I do believe if the priest who visits daily to her side, place the HOST on her forehead daily or twice a day. The glory of this will be GOD’s healing, and show the rest of this agnostic atheist secular world that GOD IS OMNI PRESENT.

    • MsDragonSlayer

      or it will just prove the obvious which looks like what is going on in this situation

  • nanie

    “she has received a feeding tube and a tracheal tube to replace the ventilator which has kept her alive since December 9.”
    I hope this is an error and not an out right lie intended to deceive even more people who refuse to believe that unfortunate things do happen from which there is no return. The tracheal tube is not replacing the ventilator it is simply a more stable way to attach that ventilator to the non-functioning respiratory system. Without the ventilator forcing air into the lungs there would be no oxygen transfer and her heart would stop beating.

  • WalterPaulKomarnicki

    so easy for a secular hospital to dismiss the patient with ‘brain death’ but far better to have a second opinion from a Catholic source.

    • Kathy English

      I highly doubt it is ever easy to declare a child dead, how smug of you. Sadly, dead she is anyway.

      • Susan Peterson

        How do you know?

  • colleen10001

    A great wise family

    • Kathy English

      Which family are you speaking about? It can’t be Jahi’s travelling dog and pony show. It is not wise to refuse to bury a dead child, no matter how beloved. Her body has been decomposing for weeks now, according to the doc below.


      • Truthful

        Do you always believe everything you read? Why are you so willing to bury someone else’s child? Have you lost a child? Are you living the saying, “Misery loves company”? I’m going to pull something out of the bag that has been overused in these current times: That mother ‘has a right’ to want and try to save her child. If women have the right to abort a baby before it is born, Jahi McMath’s mother can choose to do whatever she wants with her child’s dead or living body “within the law”. It is not your right to decide for her. She is making the decision. She is there with her daughter. You are not. She doesn’t see it as a dog and pony show. She sees that person laying in the bed as someone she gave birth to, that she loves and whom she wants to give every possible chance. That body is the body of her daughter. So, let her have her “rights”.

        • Kathy English

          But enough is enough. It has been a month, and the body is decomposing. It is sick to deny reality for this long, and quite unethical for any medical professionals aiding in this travesty. What if we all did this? The hospitals would be full of corpses on ventilators.

          • Susan Peterson

            As I said, decomposing is a strong word to describe some temperature and blood pressure instabilities. I don’t know why you think you can decide what is unethical for medical professionals to do. And we all couldn’t do this. Many of our hearts stop and can’t be restarted. Nor do we all want to. When someone dies at 89, we understand that in this fallen world, death, though a terrible thing, is inevitable, and it was that person’s time to die. It is different with a child. If this people want to hope for a miracle, and need to hope, it is not a travesty to help them.

      • Susan Peterson

        Some of those changes may have occurred just by her not being fed. And “decomposing” is a strong word for what was described. In any case, if you are right, her heart will stop beating soon enough. Her parents deserve the mercy of being allowed to hope, and of letting their child go when they can see that they must.

      • Susan Peterson

        And what a cold hearted person this doc must be. I wouldn’t want her anywhere near a child of mine, no matter how technically skilled she may be.

  • I did not know the Catholic Church recognized brain death as death. I would have thought otherwise. Jahi’s case is so sad. I would be devastated if something like that happened to my child. And i can’t help feeling the hospital is being so insensitive. They are responsible for this tragedy. I am so praying for a miracle to happen and Jahi wakes up.

    • MsDragonSlayer

      no proof of any wrongdoing by the hospital

      • I didn’t say there was. They are still insensitive.

        • indygeezer

          um, yes you did.