Dr. Paul Byrne of Ohio spoke to NBC Bay Area exclusively on Dec. 27 about how he believes Jahi McMath of Oakland is not truly dead. Byrne is a Catholic doctor who has been solicited by the family of Jahi to convince others that as long as her heart is beating, the 13-year-old girl is still alive, despite the fact that three doctors have declared her dead. At the time of the interview, he had not seen Jahi in person.
An East Coast Catholic group is using the "tragic situation" of Jahi McMath to give the organization a chance to say that faith and science are not at odds here, and in this case, the 13-year-old Oakland girl is dead.
"This is a very tragic case but in the face of death, the Church proclaims that Jesus Christ has won the victory over death," the National Catholic Bioethics Center said Tuesday on its website. "And [Jahi's mother] has the obligation to comfort those who mourn with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead. We offer our prayers for all who have been so profoundly affected by this tragic event."
In a Wednesday phone interview, center spokesman John DiCamillo told NBC Bay Area that the purpose of the statement was to tell people that "medical doctors have the competence to determine death, as long as they do it in a rigorous fashion. That is legitimate with the Catholic church."
The topic of death centers around Jahi, a young teen who went into Children's Hospital Oakland on Dec. 9 for a series of tonsil and tissue removal surgeries to help her with her sleep apnea. She suffered unknown complications and had a heart attack the day of the surgery. She was declared brain dead on Dec. 12.
Since then, her family fought the hospital in court - and in the media - to keep her on a ventilator, despite the hospital's declarations that she was legally dead. On Sunday, Jahi was moved out of the hospital to a private unknown "Catholic" facility, according to her uncle, Omari Sealey.
McMath family attorney Chris Dolan said Wednesday afternoon that the procedures needed to transfer Jahi from Children’s Hospital Oakland were “a success” and that “doctors are optimistic that her condition has stabilized and that her health is improving.”
The family has been aided by Dr. Paul Bryne, a doctor in Ohio and the past president of the Catholic Medical Association, who testified in court documents that he saw Jahi move in the hospital and considered her alive. In an exclusive interview with NBC Bay Area on Dec. 27, he said that "brain death" is not "true death."
Byrne is scheduled to face off with John Haas, the director of the National Catholic Bioethics Center on Wednesday at 5:20 p.m. ET on Ava Maria radio.
DiCamillo told NBC Bay Area that of course, there are Catholics with different perspectives. He explained the role of his group is to teach about Catholic morality according to the true teachings of Jesus.
And his organization cites the pope for backup. In a 2000 speech about organ transplants, Pope John Paul II said:
“It is a well-known fact that for some time certain scientific approaches to ascertaining death have shifted the emphasis from the traditional cardio-respiratory signs to the so-called ‘neurological’ criterion. Specifically, this consists in establishing, according to clearly defined parameters commonly held by the international scientific community, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum, and the brain stem). This is then considered the sign that the individual organism has lost its integrative capacity. . . . Here it can be said that the criterion . . . for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”
In this case, the center said that its organization does not believe there will be a "miraculous intervention" and said that the science of brain stem function should be paid attention to.
"However, the determination of death by the rigorous application of the neurological criteria is considered legitimate by the Catholic Church," the website states, "which accepts the findings of science in such a determination. The Catholic Church does not believe there can be any opposition between faith and science since both are gifts from God, the source of all truth."