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Judge rules over life support

A girl declared brain-dead can be taken off. The family has until Monday.

OAKLAND, Calif. - A judge ruled Tuesday that a 13-year-old Northern California girl declared brain-dead after suffering complications following a tonsillectomy could be taken off life support.

But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo gave Jahi McMath's family until 5 p.m. Monday to file an appeal. She will stay on life support until then.

Relatives said the family had not decided whether they would keep fighting.

"It's Christmas Eve, there is still time for a miracle," said Omari Sealey, the girl's uncle. He said the family would discuss and decide later whether to appeal or to allow the hospital to remove the girl from the ventilator.

Inside court, two doctors testified that Jahi couldn't breathe on her own when the ventilator was briefly removed during tests. A court-appointed doctor, Paul Fisher of Stanford University, examined her for several hours Monday and Tuesday and told Grillo she was brain-dead. The judge based his decision on Fisher's conclusions as well as those of Robin Shanahan, a doctor at Children's Hospital.

Speaking directly to the family, Grillo said that they had his sympathy but that he was powerless to order the hospital to keep Jahi on life support.

"I wish I could fix it," he said, "but I can't."

Children's Hospital of Oakland, where Jahi is hospitalized, has asked that the girl be taken off life support after doctors there concluded she was brain-dead.

The girl's family has said that they believed she was still alive and that the hospital should not remove her from the ventilator without its permission.

Arthur L. Caplan, who leads the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and is not involved in Jahi's case, said that once brain death has been declared, a hospital was under no obligation to keep a patient on a ventilator.

"Brain death is death," he said, adding, "They don't need permission from the family to take her off, but because the little girl died unexpectedly and so tragically, they're trying to soften the blow and let the family adjust to the reality."