By PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — After battling for more than four years to keep a comatose daughter declared brain dead from being issued a California death certificate, Nailah Winkfield forcefully told mourners at her daughter’s funeral service Friday to stop letting doctors “pull the plug on your people.”
The San Francisco Bay Area congregation gave Winkfield a standing ovation for fighting to keep her daughter on life support and taking on the medical establishment in the brain death debate between science and religion.
A California coroner issued a death certificate in January 2014 for the then-13-year-old Jahi McMath after doctors say she died of irreversible brain damage during a routine surgery to remove her tonsils in December 2013.
Winkfield refused to accept the California doctors’ conclusions and took her daughter to New Jersey, a state that accommodates religions that don’t recognize brain death.
The girl was kept on life support and received nursing care until New Jersey doctors declared her dead last week, saying the 17-year-old died of excessive bleeding after an abdominal operation.
“My daughter should not have died in New Jersey,” Winkfield said. “She should have died in California.”
New Jersey authorities issued McMath another death certificate, dated June 22.
Winkfield has filed two lawsuits in California, both of which seek to invalidate the state’s death certificate.
Winkfield’s attorney, Chris Dolan, said the New Jersey death certificate should strengthen Winkfield’s legal position.
She is suing the doctors and Oakland’s Children’s Hospital for medical malpractice, alleging surgeons botched what should have been a routine tonsillectomy.
Damages in California for so-called non-economic harm in medical malpractice cases for pain and suffering and the like are capped at $250,000 when the patient dies.
The hospital and Winkfield were wrangling over that in court when New Jersey issued its death certificate. Dolan said it’s unclear how the new death certificate will affect the medical malpractice case.
Dolan has also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, which seeks to invalidate California’s death certificate.
Winkfield said at the funeral service that she kept up her fight because of her deep Christian belief that her daughter was alive and could respond to her name being called and simple commands to wiggle a finger or toe.
She criticized the doctors who insisted her daughter was dead and said she was fighting to eliminate “brain death” as a diagnosis.
“Stop letting them pull the plug on your people,” Winkfield said of doctors. “They are not God.”
New Jersey’s Medicaid program, donations and family members paid for the girl’s care.
Winkfield said she sold her California home and drained her savings to keep her daughter on life support.
During the service, Winkfield was lauded for her determination and strength to disagree with California doctors.
“This is a celebration of a miracle,” Bishop Bob Jackson said at Oakland’s Acts Full Gospel Church. “And it started with her mother not accepting the doctors’ conclusions.”
Jahi’s body was taken to nearby Hayward for burial.