Is 13-year-old Jahi McMath alive or dead?

The question in Jahi McMath’s case is different, since the disagreement is not over ending the child’s life or even whether to withdraw futile treatment—but whether she is alive at all. …

The legal question of whether parents can disagree with a medical declaration of death as a matter of religious liberty remains unsettled. New York is one of the few states whose laws on the determination of death allow for “reasonable accommodation” of the family’s or the patient’s religious beliefs.

Doctors and ethicists seek to define death on a firm scientific basis. Yet while declaring a patient dead on the basis of total brain failure has become a widely accepted standard for medical practice and American law, for some it remains controversial. One concern is that it allows doctors to keep recently deceased, brain-dead patients on ventilators before removing their organs for transplantation. This raises the troubling question of whether the new definition is meant in part to increase the number of eligible organ donors.