Art Caplan on Brain Death, Death, and the McMath Case

Art Caplan has weighed in again, in a piece at co-authored with David Magnus, on the ongoing McMath case, in which 13-year-old Jahi McMath’s parents are fighting to keep her on life-support despite doctors’ diagnosis of brain death. From the article:

Concepts matter in medicine. This could not be more obvious than in the utter confusion on display over the concepts of ‘brain death’ and ‘life support technology’ that has resulted in two dead bodies being kept on ventilator support in California and Texas. 

In Oakland, California 13-year old Jahi McMath has been maintained on machines since an elective procedure to treat her sleep apnea went horribly wrong on December 9th. She has been in the ICU on a ventilator at the Oakland Children’s Hospital since then.

In Forth Worth, Texas, Marlese Munoz has been on machine support in the ICU at John Peter Smith Hospital since, without any warning last November 26th, she suffered a pulmonary embolism. She was then 14 weeks pregnant. 

In both cases Jahi and Marlese have been declared brain dead. In both cases there is a huge controversy over whether their ‘life-support’ can be stopped. In both cases a misunderstanding of these terms have led to outcomes that make no ethical sense at all. 

Read the full article at


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