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Jahi McMath: Life support of ‘brain dead’ US teen extended

13-year-old was declared medically dead by doctors after having her tonsils removed in a routine operation

The family of a 13-year-old US girl who was declared brain dead after complications following a routine operation have won an 11th-hour court order requiring doctors to extend her life support for at least another week.

Jahi McMath had a her tonsils removed in December to treat a sleep disorder, but began heavily bleeding after surgery, suffering a heart attack then brain swelling. 

Her family believe there is still chance she will recover and the eight-day extension has given them time to complete arrangements to have her transferred to an extended-care facility.

A previous court order had required doctors at Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, California to keep her alive until Monday. The latest order means doctors are barred from taking Jahi off a ventilator without her family's consent before 5 pm on 7 January.

Official’s at the hospital, where the original procedure was also carried out, maintain that Jahi should be taken off life support. “This is a tragedy that has been postponed for another week,” hospital spokesman Sam Singer said.

A person declared brain dead is considered legally and physiologically dead under California law, and the hospital's own statements about Jahi have referred to her as deceased.

The judge initially refused last week to extend the order after two pediatric neurologists testified that Jahi had suffered an irreversible loss of all brain activity and so is medically dead.

Family members said they were seeking to have her moved to a licensed long-term treatment center in New York and had raised $20,000 in donations needed to pay for a cross-country airlift.

In a statement at the weekend they said: “We have our strong religious convictions and set of beliefs and we believe that, in this country, a parent has the right to make decisions concerning the existence of their child: not a doctor... and definitely not a doctor who runs the facility that caused the brain death in the first place.”

Speaking outside the hospital Monday afternoon, Jahi's grandmother, a registered nurse, said that the teenager had started to move her legs and appeared to be responding to voices of loved ones around her.

Hospital spokeswoman Melinda Krigel said it was not uncommon for spontaneous twitching or other body movements caused by spinal reflexes to occur in recently deceased individuals.

The hospital has said it would not stand in the way of Jahi's being moved to another facility, but last week officials refused to perform procedures that may be required before a transfer.

The hospital and state health officials are investigating how a routine operation went so wrong.

“We have the deepest sympathy for Jahi's mother who wishes her daughter was alive; but the ventilator cannot reverse the brain death that has occurred, and it would be wrong to give false hope that Jahi will ever come back to life,” Dr. David Durand, the chief of pediatrics, said in a statement.