Boston College Expert: Case of Jahi McMath
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Father John Paris, SJ
Walsh Professor of Bioethics
Father John Paris' areas of expertise include Catholic ethics; bioethics; issues related to medical treatment termination and patient rights. He is frequently called as an expert witness in legal cases involving termination of medical treatment and has served as a consultant and expert witness in many landmark biomedical cases. Father Paris has served as consultant to the President's Commission for the Study of Ethics in Medicine, the United States Senate Committee on Aging, and the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. He has published over 180 articles in the area of law, medicine, and ethics in such entities as The New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. Among the articles published: “Why Involve Physicians in Assisted Suicide?” (American Journal of Bioethics); “Standards, Norms and Guidelines for Permissible Withdrawal of Life Support from Seriously Compromised Newborns,” (American Journal of Bioethics); “Does Compassion for a Family Justify Providing Futile CPR?” (Journal of Perinatology); and “What do you tell the family who asks, ‘What went wrong?’ The truth and nothing but the truth” (Journal of Perinatology).
“The judge is hoping some appeals court will pick up the case and he won’t have to be the one to decide it,” says Father John Paris, S.J., Ph.D., Walsh Professor of Bioethics at Boston College. “Nobody wants to take responsibility."
Jahi McMath was admitted to Children's Hospital Oakland for a routine tonsillectomy on December 9, but shortly after the surgery, began losing massive amounts of blood and went into cardiac arrest. The 13-year-old was declared brain dead a few days after the surgery but the family’s legal fight has prevented the hospital from taking the girl off life support. The decision by Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo to extend the restraining order by a week prolongs the inevitable, says Father Paris, and is not surprising.
“He’s hoping for one of two things,” says Father Paris, one of the nation’s foremost experts on legal cases involving termination of medical treatment. “She’s already dead but he’s hoping her heart stops so then the family says, ‘Well, the heart stopped and we accept God’s will.’ The judge is also hoping that an appeals court picks up the case for him. And I don’t see any reasons why an appeals court will take it. There’s no legal issue.”
Two facilities in California initially said they would care for the teen but then reversed course; the family claims a facility in New York will take their daughter but Father Paris is doubtful that will occur.
“First of all, what insurance company is going to want to pay for medical treatment for a corpse?” asks Father Paris, who has been a consultant to the President's Commission for the Study of Ethics in Medicine. “Secondly, once the court has officially declared someone dead, who’s going to pay for that?
“If you believe in science, then the reality is: this child has died. Now you don’t have to believe in science. And remember now, what this family is asking for is a miracle and that’s beyond the court’s ability to provide.”
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