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California judge won't extend order keeping brain-dead girl on ventilator

By Laila Kearney

OAKLAND, California (Reuters) - Relatives of a California girl declared brain dead after complications from a tonsillectomy lost their bid on Tuesday to extend a court order that bars a hospital from taking the child off a breathing machine without their consent before December 30.

A judge denied the family's petition to lengthen his restraining order after two pediatric neurologists testified during a court hearing in Oakland that 13-year-old Jahi McMath was without brain function and thus beyond recovery.

Family members and their lawyer said after the proceedings that they had not yet decided whether to dispute the medical findings or appeal the latest decision by Alameda County Superior Judge Evelio Grillo to a higher court.

"I just want to kiss Jahi's warm face like I do every day," her grandmother, Sandra Chatman, said outside the courthouse.

The girl's uncle, Omari Sealey, said the hearing left him feeling "numb," adding "We're still trying to digest it."

Jahi was admitted to Children's Hospital and Resource Center in Oakland on December 9 for surgery to remove her tonsils but ended up being declared brain dead three days later following complications from the operation, hospital officials have said.

The family's lawyer, Christopher Dolan, said the surgery, aimed at treating Jahi's sleep apnea, was considered routine, but after surgery Jahi began bleeding profusely, suffered a heart attack and then brain swelling.

The judge granted a restraining order on Monday barring doctors from taking Jahi off the ventilator - a machine that has kept her breathing artificially - against the family's wishes any sooner than 5 p.m. (8 p.m. EST).

Grillo also ordered an independent examination of the girl's medical condition, which was conducted on Monday under court order by Dr. Paul Fisher from Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, California.

Both Fisher and another pediatric neurologist from the Oakland hospital, Dr. Robin Shanahan, told the judge on Tuesday that Jahi was brain dead, which differs from either a coma or a vegetative state in that there is no brain activity whatsoever.

While it was unclear whether the family might elect to have the girl removed from the ventilator before the judge's order expires, Dolan indicated that relatives wanted to wait at least until after Christmas.

"A big part of this race was getting this child to and through Christmas," he said. "The most precious thing we have right now is time."

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Writing by Steve Gorman)

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