At 14 weeks pregnant, Marlise Munoz of Texas suffered what appeared to be a pulmonary embolism (blood clot) in her lungs and collapsed on the kitchen floor. She lay there for an hour until her husband found her, during which time her fetus was possibly not exposed to oxygen.
Marlise was a paramedic who was attending nursing school; her husband is a firefighter. Given their exposure to such circumstances in their professional lives, the Star-Telegram reports, each had conveyed to the other they did not want to be kept alive on life support if such a tragedy happened to them.
But their wishes don’t matter. Forth Worth’s John Peter Smith Hospital is keeping still brain dead Marlise technically alive on life support throughout the remainder of her pregnancy because of a law meant to “protect” her fetus. She is currently 20 weeks pregnant.
The New York Times told the story yesterday, highlighting not just the 21st century medical ethics quandary, but illustrating what should be strong indictment of Texas’ — and America at large’s — increasing opposition to a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions. Marlise’s father, Ernest Machado, told the Times, “All she is is a host for a fetus. I get angry with the state. What business did they have delving into these areas? Why are they practicing medicine up in Austin?”
A 1999 Texas state law states that “life-sustaining treatment” cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient until her fetus is delivered. (Thirty-one states have laws restricting the termination of life support for pregnant women. The wishes of the women themselves and their families are superceded by the laws of the state.) However, medical ethicists said this is meant to apply to pregnant women in a coma or in a vegetative state (conscious, but not completely awake). Several are quoted in the Star-Telegram and the Times saying conclusively that Marlise Munoz is legally dead.
Her family says the John Peter Smith Hospital is overreaching in their compliance with the law keeping their daughter alive through machines when she is brain dead, not to mention they are dishonoring her end-of-life wishes. Marlise’s mother told the Times that their daughter’s medical care is not a matter of “pro-choice or pro-life,” it’s about “our daughter’s wishes not being honored by the state of Texas.”
Upon her death, Erick Munoz, her husband, will become a single parent to the couple’s 15-month-old son. Whether or not the fetus in her womb will survive is completely unknown. But right now, they just want to be able to make medical decisions themselves.
“That’s very frustrating for me, especially when we have no input in the decision-making process,” Marlise’s dad told the Times. “They’re prolonging our agony.”
Email me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.
[Image of Texas flag via Shutterstock]