California teen who spurred questions about brain death dies at 17

June 29 (UPI) — Jahi McMath, a California teen who became brain-dead five years ago after a routine tonsilectomy, has died from complications from another operation, her family said. She was 17.

McMath underwent the surgery in California to help with her sleep apnea. Surgeons removed her tonsils, adenoids and uvula. In intensive care, she began bleeding and went into cardiac arrest. Doctors said she was brain-dead, which led to a months-long legal fight with McMath’s family to keep the hospital from removing life support.

Family attorney Christopher Dolan said the girl died last week from liver failure.

McMath’s case drew national attention and launched a debate over how to define death.

Although brain death is defined by the medical community to mean a total loss of brain function, McMath’s family fought to keep her on a ventilator, saying she showed signs of life.

In January 2014, the hospital released Jahi and she was transferred to a New Jersey hospital. Jahi died at the hospital there, which accommodates families whose religious beliefs don’t recognize brain death.

Mother Nailah Winkfield left her job, sold her home and left her other children in the care of relatives to be with Jahi on the East Coast.

The family sought to have Jahi’s death declaration reversed in October 2014 after Dolan showed a video suggesting Jahi was able to move her hands and feet.

Dr. Alan Shewmon, a retired UCLA neurologist and critic of brain death diagnoses, said last year in court documents Jahi’s body had not deteriorated as expected. He also said video footage showed she could twitch her fingers and react to odors.

Jahi’s body will be taken back to Oakland, Calif., next week, her family said, and her brain will be preserved for scientific study.

Dolan said he plans to keep fighting to have Jahi’s death certificate changed to reflect her clinical death on June 22.