SAN FRANCISCO – An advocacy group is facing sharp criticism for using the case of a 13-year-old California girl declared brain dead in a bid to raise money for a proposed ballot initiative.
An attorney for the family of the girl, Jahi McMath of Oakland, and from Children’s Hospital Oakland, where she was declared brain dead following sleep apnea surgery, both condemned the move.
Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court said Wednesday that he emailed a plea to supporters before Christmas asking for donations to lift the state’s 38-year-old cap on medical malpractice awards. Too often the limit of $250,000 creates an incentive for hospitals to let children like Jahi die, he said.
“She went in for simple tonsillectomy and ended up on life support,” the email said. “If kids injured by medical negligence die, the most their families can recover is $250,000. … If children who are victims of medical negligence live, hospitals are on the hook for medical bills for life, which could be millions.”
Attorney Christopher Dolan, who represents Jahi’s family, is a board member of Consumer Attorneys of California, the prime group funding the ballot initiative to lift the cap on pain and suffering awards. But he told The San Francisco Chronicle he felt that using Jahi as a fundraising tool was “a bad thing to do.”
Hospital spokesman Sam Singer said the campaign should not exploit Jahi’s case. “The campaign fundraising solicitation is both shameless and shameful,” Singer said.
If passed on November’s ballot, the Troy & Alana Pack Patient Safety Act would raise the cap on medical malpractice awards to about $1.2 million, a limit that would increase based on inflation, said Bob Pack, chair of the campaign committee. The group has collected nearly all of the 504,000 signatures needed by March 25 to put the measure on the ballot.
Jahi underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital on Dec. 9 to treat severe sleep apnea. Surgeons removed her tonsils and other parts of her nose and throat to widen the air passages.
Following the surgery, she bled from her mouth and nose and went into cardiac arrest. Doctors declared her brain dead three days later and on Dec. 20 sought to remove her ventilator.
Her mother, Nailah Winkfield, refusing to believe her daughter was dead as long as her heart was beating, went to court to stop the machine from being disconnected and twice won injunctions stopping the hospital. On Friday, the two sides reached an agreement, allowing Jahi to be transferred to an undisclosed facility.