CON: Life Support

Emily Wong, Asst. A&E Editor

The controversy surrounding 13-year-old Jahi McMath, who was declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy, has been fervent in the past couple months. She has been on a ventilator, which has kept her breathing despite the lack of brain function. In spite of the Oakland Children’s Hospital’s desire to take Jahi off the ventilator, her family has fought to keep their daughter on the machine and recently transferred her to another facility. Although the incident is undoubtedly tragic and the amount of grief the loved ones are feeling is unfathomable, the Oakland hospital is correct: the brain-dead body should be removed from life support.

Miracles exist. Patients can come out of comas—even vegetative states. However, once the brain ceases any function, it is irrevocable; in fact, brain death is legally defined as death in the United States. The term is simply used to describe how the death was determined. Even though the McMath family has insisted Jahi is still alive since she is still breathing and her heart is beating, the ventilator oxygenates the patient’s lungs because they cannot do so on their own, thus causing the heart to beat. Essentially, the patient is dead. The ventilator merely creates the illusion of life.

Prolonging a person on life support is not only futile but also costly. In fact, it is estimated to be a minimum of $2,000 to $4,000 per day and may amount to much more depending on the patient’s condition. This money could go toward something more effective, such as research to prevent brain death or resources to save patients who can actually be saved. The funds to maintain life support on a brain-dead patient are too high for such an unnecessary cause.

In addition, nurses and doctors must make time to care for these brain-dead patients to thwart bed sores from being kept in a bed for a long period of time. Although this may come across as unsympathetic, the fact of the matter is that these medical professionals should not waste precious time for legally dead patients when they can attend to others who actually have a chance at survival.

Perhaps my biggest argument is not facts and figures but the acceptance of death. Acceptance, the last step in the grieving process, is the most difficult step to achieve after the death of a loved one. Jahi’s brain death is a heartrending prognosis and it is difficult to not sympathize with Jahi’s mother, who is so struck with grief that she is probably less than willing to concede that her daughter is dead. Claiming their daughter was alive due to her warm body temperature and artificially beating heart, the McMaths are evidently in denial of the reality behind their daughter’s condition. Though Jahi’s death was an unfortunate ending to such an innocent life, her parents should accept her death for closure rather than perpetuating their grief.
Choosing to let go of someone is not easy, but that does not mean the McMaths should run away from doing so. The decision to keep Jahi on life support is nonsensical and should be thought out again by her parents. In this case, life support is not a way of life but a way of death.