Jahi McMath's mother slams doctors at funeral over bitter brain death debate

- Funeral services were held Friday for Jahi McMath, the Oakland teenager at the center of a long and bitter legal battle regarding brain death. 

The funeral took place at Acts Full Gospel Church in Oakland, where her body lay in a purple casket and photos of her adorned the church. Her body will be laid to rest at Mount Eden Cemetery in Hayward.

"My daughter should not have died in New Jersey," Winkfield said. "She should have died in California."

"Jahi is with us, I know she is," her grandmother, Sandra Chatman, told the audience.

Family attorney Chris Dolan also praised Jahi's family for their Christian faith and their refusal to accept the brain-dead conclusion that doctors in California determined for the teen nearly five years ago.

"There was no script for Jahi McMath," Dolan said. 

Pastors, friends and even one of Jahi's nurses came out to speak about the girl and her family's resilience in believing that she remained alive despite official prognoses that she was was not. 

Jahi underwent tonsil surgery at Oakland’s Children Hospital in in 2013 when she was 13 years old.

There were massive complications and several doctors in California declared her brain dead that year. In California, brain death is the same as legal death.

Her family refused to accept the order and sued the hospital for malpractice. For its part, the last time the hospital has officially commented on Jahi was in 2014, when it reiterated its condolences to the family. Earlier, the hospital said it was "committed to learning what led to this catastrophic outcome." 

Her mother, Nailah Winkfield, moved with her daughter to New Jersey, a state that allows families to reject a brain-death diagnosis on religious grounds. At the funeral, Winkfield took aim at the hospital and praised her daughter for "going out on her own terms." 

Jahi's family says she died June 22 at age 17, from liver failure and a brain injury, stemming from the earlier complications.  The girl was kept on life support and received nursing care until New Jersey doctors declared her dead last week, they say she died of excessive bleeding after an abdominal operation.

Jahi now has two death certificates.

Winkfield is entangled in a legal and bureaucratic dispute about which one accurately portrays the circumstances and the exact date of her daughter’s death. Winkfield wants the New Jersey certificate honored because she never believed her daughter died in Oakland.

Which death certificate is honored is crucial in the family’s medical malpractice suit against the hospital. 

Dolan said he believes Jahi’s New Jersey death certificate will provide him with his best evidence yet that she wasn’t technically brain dead. 

Damages in California for so-called non-economic harm in medical malpractice cases for pain and suffering and the like are capped at $250,000 when the patient dies.

The hospital and Winkfield were wrangling over that in court when New Jersey issued its death certificate.

Winkfield said at the funeral service that she kept up her fight because of her deep Christian belief that her daughter was alive and could respond to her name being called and simple commands to wiggle a finger or toe.

She criticized the doctors who insisted her daughter was dead and said she was fighting to eliminate "brain death" as a diagnosis.

"Stop letting them pull the plug on your people," Winkfield said of doctors. "They are not God."

"This is a celebration of a miracle," Bishop Bob Jackson said at Oakland's Acts Full Gospel Church. "And it started with her mother not accepting the doctors' conclusions."  

Associated Press contributed to this report 
 

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