Losing a child is horrible -- a promising life cut short, hopes and dreams dashed with no recourse, a family bereft and facing decades of mourning and regret.

But is that the responsibility of the government?

This question is probably the simplest of dozens of questions raised by the sad case of Jahi McMath, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

The 13-year-old Oakland girl suffered irreparable brain damage while undergoing a routine operation at Children's Hospital on 52nd Street in 2013 and is being cared for at a facility in New Jersey.

Declared dead

Jahi had to be moved from the hospital, now called UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, after she was declared dead by doctors and by the Alameda County Coroner's Office.

But her family has insisted that Jahi, who was being maintained on life-support machines, was still alive and could be restored to consciousness by a miracle.

Questions raised

Now, four years later, a judge in Alameda County has agreed that the family, which is suing the hospital in state and federal court, can try to prove their wrongful death or wrongful injury case to a California jury.

“This is a massive win both legally and spiritually for the family," said Chris Dolan of San Francisco, the family's attorney in the federal civil rights case.

"This mother’s been fighting to have her daughter be counted as a living, breathing human being,” he said.

Millions of dollars

At stake is millions of dollars in medical costs and potential damages for Jahi's family's claims against the hospital for a wrongful injury or wrongful death.

This week's ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stephen Pulido sets up an unusual proceeding at which a state court jury will be asked to decide if the girl is dead or not.

Pulido made the ruling after hearing testimony from UCLA professor emeritus Alan Shewmon that there was a legitimate question about Jahi's condition.

Shewmon testified that Jahi's situation had changed since 2013 and she may not still be technically dead but in a "minimally responsive state."

Jahi McMath is a living, severely disabled young lady, who currently fulfills neither the standard diagnostic guidelines for brain death nor California’s statutory definition of death,” Shewmon wrote in a declaration filed in state court.

A date for the trial in Alameda County Superior Court has not yet been scheduled, the newspaper said. The federal court lawsuit is being held pending the determination of the state court.

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