With brain death, doctors and families struggle to define when the fight is over

North Jersey | Colleen Diskin

RECORD FILE PHOTO/TARIQ ZEHAWI In this file photo, Laureen LaVecchia and her boyfriend, Brian Dellerman, wait at the hospital on Aug. 19, 2015.

A teenage girl is hooked up to a respirator in New Jersey, her heart still beating, her brain the subject of a fractious dispute over what many consider long-settled medical standard: the point at which someone can be pronounced dead.

Jahi McMath was declared brain dead by doctors in California nearly two years ago after a simple tonsillectomy went horribly wrong. Her family fought with doctors over the diagnosis and went to court, where they persuaded a judge to allow them to bring her across the country to a facility that would care for her.

Jahi McMath and Mikey LaVecchia were declared brain dead by doctors, but their families were not convinced and opted to continue care.

More recently, Mikey LaVecchia — a 13-year-old victim of a Wayne car crash that killed his father — was transferred out of St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson after his doctors, too, declared him brain dead and his family vehemently objected, saying they had given up on him too soon and were pressuring them to donate his organs. Mikey died weeks later when his mom agreed to take him off life support. Continue reading