As Jahi McMath — girl at center of life-support controversy — dies, coverage still haunted by ghosts

GetReligion first commented on the story of Jahi McMath back in 2014 in a post titled "God, faith and church (or not)" by my wife, Tamie Ross.

More recently, my colleague Julia Duin delved into a magazine piece on McMath in a post titled "To die or not to die: The New Yorker probes the case of a 13-year-old girl."

Each of those posts lamented the lack of specific details concerning religion and the family's theological reasons for wanting to keep the teen on life support.

So it's little surprise to find much of the recent news coverage of McMath's death haunted by holy ghosts.

Let's start with a big chunk of CNN's report:

(CNN) Jahi McMath, an Oakland teenager whose brain-death following a routine tonsil surgery in 2013 created national headlines, died on June 22, according to the family's attorney.
She was 13 when she underwent surgery to treat pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that made her stop breathing in her sleep and caused other medical problems.
Nearly five years later, "Jahi died as the result of complications associated with liver failure," the statement from attorney Christopher Dolan said.
She underwent surgery on December 9, 2013 at the Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland. After the procedure to remove her tonsils, adenoids and extra sinus tissue Jahi was alert and talking to doctors and even requested a Popsicle.
According to her family, Jahi was in the intensive care unit when she started to bleed and went into cardiac arrest. On December 12, 2013 she was declared brain-dead. Her family disagreed with the declaration.
This launched a months-long battle between the hospital, which sought to remove Jahi from a ventilator after doctors and a judge concluded she was brain-dead, and her relatives, who fought in court to keep her on the ventilator and contended she showed signs of life.

See any missing words there? Words such as religion and faith? Keep reading, and CNN manages to avoid any mention at all of the family's Christian faith.

But thankfully, not every major media organizations ignored such terms.

Give The Associated Press for highlighting the religion angle, if not answering all the questions that some of us might have.

AP's lede:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A girl at the center of the medical and religious debate over brain death has died after surgery in New Jersey, her mother said Thursday.

And later in the AP report, the wire service elaborates on mother Nailah Winkfield's position:

Winkfield refused to accept the conclusion. She said her Christian beliefs compelled her to fight for continued care for her daughter, who she said showed signs of life through toe wriggles and finger movements.
Winkfield flew her daughter to New Jersey, where she has remained on life support and received care in the state that accommodates religions that don’t recognize brain death.
“Jahi wasn’t brain dead or any kind of dead,” Winkfield said. “She was a girl with a brain injury and she deserved to be cared for like any other child who had a brain injury.”
McMath’s case drew national attention amid the debate over brain death and religious beliefs. Conservative religious groups rallied behind Winkfield and helped raise money for McMath’s continued care.

For those who have followed Jahi's story, the San Jose Mercury News published a fascinating piece just today — albeit mostly devoid on religion — on how doctors now say she improved after she was declared brain-dead.

There's even a word in the lede that hints at a spiritual component:

Coming just days after the announcement of her death, a newly released Harvard Medical School summary says that Jahi McMath’s brain showed subtle signs of improvement over the five-year span following the original declaration that she was brain-dead — suggesting a legal “resurrection” from death to life and challenging our widely held understanding of what it means to be officially dead.

Read it all.

 

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