Death of Young Child – Jahi McMath

This is a conflict between one’s religious beliefs and the state.

From KPIX News San Francisco

Jahi McMath is being kept “alive’ by artificial means; a feeding tube and breathing apparatus keeping her physically “alive.” However, without brain function, there is no hope in Jahi regaining consciousness.

Contrary to the doctors’ findings, Jahi’s family wishes to keep her on the ventilation and feeding tube because of their “religious beliefs.” I am curious as to what those beliefs are?

Though my knowledge of the Torah and Bible are limited, I can find only one “command” that may be applicable here; the commandment “Thou shall no kill.” But is removing Jahi from the machines that are keeping her tissues alive tantamount to “killing” her? Or is the process of hope for a miracle so great that it outweighs the financial and fiscal costs of keeping Jahi “alive.”

This goes to the question as whether or not to take extraordinary steps to maintain a living shell though the function of the brain is no longer measurable. That the body can no longer function, even on the most rudimentary  levels, should be taken into consideration. This is, after all, a decision that not only affects Jahi’s family, but the families of others who may not be “brain dead” but require the extraordinary care to function daily.

At what point does religious belief outweigh medical expertise? At what point does the cost of maintaining a shell outweigh the society’s need to help those who can function independently.

As I get older, I am looking at death differently. My father’s pending death is something that weighs heavily on my mind as of late. He is as okay with his decision that the path to death is his and his alone to choose. Do not take steps to prolong life if living in a vegetative state would be the result. There is no cure for pancreatic cancer. There is no cure for a brain that has ceased functioning.

Science can keep a body “alive” for an astonishing time after the brain no  longer functions. But if the brain has stop functioning, can we still call the shell a living being? Or in terms of the religious, a living soul?

I see Jahi’s family as being selfish, wanting to hold on to something that has been long dead. I can empathize with the family at the loss of a child, but to prolong the family’s hope against hope for a supernatural miracle may be beyond reasonable.

If such a faith befalls me, allow me to die with dignity. Keep me as free from pain as possible, but beyond that, death is part of the cycle of life. We must all die; though a death at the tender age of 13 is more tragic than at 90. My father will tell you that he has lived the life he dreamed of. He owned everything he wanted to own, had a wonderful family, is married to a wonderful woman and has traveled the world. Jahi cannot claim such an existence.

However, in her current condition, she will never be able experience the joy of dating, her senior prom, marriage or having her own children. She will never have the opportunity to travel nor have the physical possessions that most of us take for granted. There will be no pleasures of life as you or I know it. Hers will be forever lost in time.

I cannot understand, I cannot imagine the pain of the loss of a child. However, I certainly would not wish that child to continue to “live” without a functioning brain. I do not believe in the supernatural power(s) that may cause her brain to switch on, though I know that in rare cases, the human body has done things that are not immediately explainable.

Allow me to rest in peace once declared dead, physically or mentally. Allow me to live with the knowledge that I will no longer feel pain and that I can find the perfect rest. We know when the door shuts on this life. We do not know if there is a door to another. It is not up to us to prevent death’s hand. It is up to us to allowing death to come with dignity and honor, without the interference of hope beyond hope.

There is no lesson in the tragic death of a young girl for the family or the community. As Robert Ingersoll said,

“It may be that death gives all there is of worth to life. If those who press and strain against our hearts could never die, perhaps that love would wither from the earth. May be a common faith treads from out the paths between our hearts the weeds of selfishness, and I should rather live and love where death is king than have eternal life where love is not.”



About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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