California Girl to Remain on Ventilator Until Jan. 7

Court rules that Jahi McMath can stay on life support until the first week of Jan.

Posted: 12/31/2013 05:36 AM EST

A California girl declared brain dead after tonsil surgery will remain on life support for at least another week after a state judge on Monday extended a deadline.

Jahi McMath's mother, Nailah Winkfield, hailed the decision as an answer to her prayers and a sign that she has been right to keep fighting for the teen, who doctors have said will never recover.

With television cameras clustered outside the hospital, the family maintained a vigil as the deadline approached.

When Winkfield heard of the judge's decision to push back the deadline, she wept and hugged relatives outside the hospital.

"Who wants to know the date and the time their child would die?" Winkfield said. "I don't care what anyone has to say about what I'm doing. ... I have to do what is right for me and for Jahi."

She said she does not believe her daughter is dead because her heart is still beating.

Doctors at Children's Hospital Oakland want to take her off the machines that are keeping her body functioning. Her family wants to continue life support, saying they have hope she will still pull through.

Shortly before a previous ruling would have allowed doctors to end life support at 5 p.m. Monday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ordered the hospital to keep Jahi on a ventilator until Jan. 7 to give the family time to file a petition in state appellate court.

Grillo's ruling Monday is the latest twist in a harrowing legal and medical fight that has reignited a heated debate about when life support should end for a severely brain-damaged person.

Also on Monday, the family's lawyer filed suit in federal court, requesting that the hospital be compelled to perform a tracheotomy for breathing and to insert a feeding tube — procedures that would allow Jahi to be transferred to a facility willing to care for her. The hospital has said it's unethical to perform surgery on a person who is legally dead.

Sam Singer, a hospital spokesman, said it would comply with the judge's new order but would oppose any efforts by Jahi's family to convince a court that she is still alive and entitled to the same rights as a living person.

"We are hopeful we will be successful so this tragedy can end," Singer said.

He also dismissed claims by Jahi's relatives that she has shown signs of life, saying any muscle activity was an involuntary muscle reflex.

The family's lawyer, Christopher Dolan, said when he called Jahi's mother at the hospital about the extension of the deadline, she said hospital staff had cleared family members out of a waiting room as doctors prepared to remove Jahi from the ventilator.

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(Photo: AP Photo/The Contra Costa Times, Kristopher Skinner)

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