OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – The mother of a teenager at the center of a medical and religious debate over brain death told dozens of family members, friends and others at the girl’s funeral Friday to stop allowing doctors to "pull the plug on your people."
The San Francisco Bay Area congregation gave Jahi McMath’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, a standing ovation at the start of the service for fighting to keep her daughter on life support.
A California coroner issued a death certificate more than four years ago for then-13-year-old Jahi after doctors say she died of irreversible brain damage during surgery to remove her tonsils in December 2013.
Winkfield refused to accept the California doctors’ conclusion 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."
Winkfield said 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.
Winkfield has filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital in California court and a civil rights complaint in federal court. Both lawsuits seek to invalidate the California death certificate.
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 All Acts Full Gospel Church. "And it started with her mother not accepting the doctors’ conclusions."
Jahi will be buried in the nearby city of Hayward.
This story has been corrected to show the funeral was Friday.
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