An Oakland mother's two-year quest to have her brain-dead daughter declared legally alive has now moved to federal court in the hopes she and Jahi McMath can move back home to be surrounded by "the love and support of their family," according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court.
Jahi's mother, Nailah Winkfield, said at a Thursday news conference at the San Francisco law office of Chris Dolan, that she still believes her now-15-year-old daughter is alive, citing Jahi's puberty and finger movement as evidence.
And her suit asks that the state and county entities that declared her daughter dead in 2013 rescind their declaration and allow her to move back to Oakland to return to their family and friends. If she does move back to California, the state considers the brain dead teen legally dead. Dolan is hoping he'll have better luck in federal court.
Winkfield is suing the state of California, the Alameda County Dept. of Public Health, the Alameda County Coroner, and the clerk-recorder's office, among other agencies and individuals. The 57-page suit seeks "declaratory and injunctive relief," alleging the family's civil rights, disabilities rights and religious land use rights were all violated.
"I won't give up on Jahi," Winkfield said by video conference in New Jersey. "I'm her mother."
The suit claims that Jahi is in "excellent health" and she has "irrefutable brain function." The teen's brain has not liquified, the suit states, and her organs have not failed - which doctors said would have occurred with brain death.
The Alameda County coroner in Oakland signed Jahi's death certificate in December 2013. The medical examiner concluded that the then-13-year-old died from post-procedure complications at Oakland's Children's Hospital following surgery to remove her tonsils.
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An Alameda County judge upheld the death certificate after a respected Stanford University neurologist and two other medical experts concluded the girl was dead. On Thursday, the coroner's office stood by its original decision. The county's health department said the office is awaiting guidance from legal counsel before responding.
Also on Thursday, David Magnus, director of Stanford University's Center for Bioethics, said in a separate interview that Jahi's family is misguided: Hormone activity shouldn't be confused with brain activity, he said.
Magnus added that this case has much wider legal ramifications. Broadening the definition of brain death, he said, could pose major issues for all those awaiting organs from people who have been declared brain dead, which is considered the same as actual death in states such as California.
Mother and daughter are living at undisclosed in-home facility in New Jersey, where Jahi is considered alive, because of a religious exemption for the brain dead in that state.
Winkfield has been able to use Jahi’s insurance to provide for her medical care but was forced to sell her house and deplete her mother’s savings throughout the entire costly process, although Dolan is helping the family pro bono.
No court date has been scheduled for the federal case.
NBC Bay Area's Gonzalo Rojas and the Associated Press contributed to this report.