Another Perspective

The Politics of Language

Jahi McMath is not a “body.”

By 1.8.14

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“Political language,” wrote George Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” The media’s insistence that Jahi McMath is just a “body” falls into this Orwellian category.

“Hospital releases body of Jahi McMath,” read stories about the thirteen-year-old Oakland girl taken to a New York hospice after doctors at Children’s Hospital Oakland stopped treating her. “Performing medical procedures on the body of a deceased human being is simply not something Children's Hospital can do or ask its staff to assist in doing,” said the hospital’s attorney.

Echoing this line, liberal journalists and commentators, who normally pride themselves on their sensitivity to slights, had no problem referring to the girl as a corpse and her parents as deluded.

If McMath is a corpse, she is a surprisingly active one. Her heart is still beating, something readers will learn from even some of the same stories saying she is dead. And how does this corpse manage to digest food or breathe?

By any common sense measure, “brain death” is not death. It was a baldly ideological definition of death concocted in the 1960s to make everyone feel better about plucking the organs of still-living persons and pulling the plug on inconvenient patients.

Yet the media treats the parents’ comments about their daughter as a “belief.” The parents have taken their daughter, we’re told, to a hospice that “shares their belief” that the girl is alive.

Is it a “belief” that her heart is still beating? No, it is a fact. But don’t let your lying eyes fool you, says CNN.com, which ran one story with the headline, “Why Brain Dead is Really Dead.” The story never gets around to explaining how cadavers manage to keep their blood circulating, why cadavers would need drugs before organs are extracted from them, or how cadavers manage to give birth to children (which has happened in a number of cases involving women declared brain dead).

Both at the beginning and end of a person’s life, a pro-abortion media likes to reduce the inconvenient to mere matter: a fetus is just “tissue”; McMath is just a “body.” So who cares what is done to them? At the same time, the media, as a reliable defender of Darwinian materialism, isn’t sure if anyone has a soul. So why calling McMath simply a “body at this point” makes her less human from their vantage point isn’t exactly clear either.

The media’s certainty about death is no sturdier than its certainty about life. Journalists can look at a sonogram and not see a baby, just as they can look at a thirteen-year-old with a beating heart and not see a human but a “corpse.”

The Los Angeles Times, covering this story, didn’t even bother to coordinate its recent line on brain death. It has been running stories scoffing at the idea that McMath is still alive. Yet just last fall it was telling readers about new research suggesting “brain activity after ‘brain death’”:

Researchers at the Universite de Montreal put 26 cats under deep anesthesia and recorded their brain activity in the upper cortical regions and hippocampus. In all of the cats, a previously undocumented “ripple event” was evident in the hippocampus after EEG read-outs went “flat,” indicating a silenced cortex. The results appeared to replicate what had been seen in the human patient, according to the study.

The findings could revive debate over the criteria for declaring a person “brain dead.” In the U.S., two such flat-line readings 24 hours apart are necessary, along with other tests of brain function.

Researchers said their findings suggest that the brain can survive an extremely deep coma and that inducing such a state could help preserve some brain function that otherwise might cease, causing the brain to atrophy.

Scientists have been steadily probing the nature of brain activity at the border of death. Evidence of a sharp burst in brain activity after cardiac arrest suggest a neural explanation for anecdotes from patients who have recovered from near-death experiences, including a sensation of leaving the body, and deep memories flickering in dream-like fashion.

Whatever happens in this case, this much is clear: an Orwellian media won’t let the facts get in the way of a good or bad story.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.