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When a 13 year-old girl from Oakland named Jahi McMath was pronounced brain dead after a surgical complication in 2013, California issued her a death certificate. Five years later, she received a second death certificate in New Jersey. How could one person die twice? In this episode, we learn that the line between life and death isn’t always as clear as you might think. 

Show notes:
This episode features interviews with:

Yolonda Wilson, Assistant Professor at the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University

Jeffrey Kahn, Andreas C. Dracopolous Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics

Bob Truog, Frances Glessner Lee Distinguished Professor of Medical Ethics, Anaesthesia, and Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. 

This episode references a New Yorker article about Jahi’s case, which you can read here. It also references the Uniform Determination of Death Act, which you can read here. In 2023, recommendations for updates to UDDA were released by the American College of Physicians and a consensus statement was published by the American Academy of Neurology, American Academy of Pediatrics, Child Neurology Society, and Society of Critical Care Medicine.

For further reading about the Harvard committee that first defined brain death in 1968, and to learn more about more cases like Jahi’s that deal with ethics issues at the end of life, visit the Berman Institute’s episode guide

The Greenwall Foundation. Making bioethics integral to decisions in healthcare, policy and research. Learn more at

The Host

Lauren Arora Hutchinson, PhD, MPH

Lauren Arora Hutchinson, host of playing god?, joined the Berman Institute in June 2022 as the inaugural director of the Dracopoulos-Bloomberg iDeas Lab. She was previously a BBC journalist, award-winning audio storyteller,…