Legal questions abound in cases involving end-of-life decisions - KCTV5

Legal questions abound in cases involving end-of-life decisions

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The hospital and a coroner declared Jahi McMath legally dead, with no brain activity, and kept alive only through a ventilator to breathe and provide oxygen to her heart. The hospital and a coroner declared Jahi McMath legally dead, with no brain activity, and kept alive only through a ventilator to breathe and provide oxygen to her heart.
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

The case of a California girl whose parents had to go to court in order to keep her on life support raises new questions about the issue that first arose two decades ago.

Those famous cases involved the right to die, but Jahi McMath's parents are in the opposite position.

The hospital and a coroner declared her legally dead, with no brain activity, and kept alive only through a ventilator to breathe and provide oxygen to her heart.

The parents fought to delay disconnecting her until they could find a facility that agreed with them that she has a chance.

Lawyer Matt O'Conner says Missouri law defines death along the same lines as the California law regulating Jahi's care.

"If you have brain death, number one, and then you have someone who is dependent on a respirator, then that would be considered legally dead," said O'Conner. "So the question becomes, what if the family provides that for them? And that's where you get beyond the legal implications of it."

The law provides a definition of death and instructions about a hospital's duty to provide care to a living person. The law remains silent, he says, on the question of a parent's right to continue to provide care after that point.

As an ethical matter, cost comes into the question, a burden on others. Jahi's family, however, has so far raised more than $50,000 by way of a fundraising website.

"When should government or the courts tell parents they can give up hope?" O'Conner asked. "If the parents can afford to and provide for care for that child, shouldn't they be allowed to?"

They are allowed to the extent that the law does not prohibit that. But O'Conner would like to see the law amended to specifically allow for it.

"It doesn't (prohibit that), but it makes it a little more difficult when you have a coroner saying legally dead," said O'Conner. "What happens if she does come back? Do they have to revise that and give her a new birth certificate? What a mess."

Jahi's parents have transferred her to another facility but will not name the place because they say they are worried about vocal opponents doing something to jeopardize her care.

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