Texas Court Forces Hospital To Take Brain Dead Pregnant Woman Off Life Support

A shameful, sad and gruesome chapter in Texas’ history is finally over: a judge ordered a Fort Worth hospital to remove Marlise Munoz from life support.

Munoz, who was pregnant with her second child, has been brain dead since November, when she apparently suffered a pulmonary embolism. Despite the 32-year-old’s own wish (supported by her husband) not to be kept on a ventilator, John Peter Smith Hospital refused to remove her because of the fetus inside her. The hospital feared running afoul of a 1999 Texas law which states “life-sustaining treatment” cannot be removed from a pregnant woman, despite the woman’s own wishes. 

In late November, Marlise was found in the middle of the night on the kitchen floor by her husband, Erick Munoz. She was taken to the hospital and pronounced brain dead; her then-14-week-old fetus was likely without oxygen for several hours. Both Marlise and Erick were paramedics and had made clear to each other how they felt about being put on life support. But John Peter Smith Hospital would not take Marlise off the ventilator due to her pregnancy, even though it could not confirm that she was otherwise “alive” by any definition.

Erick Munoz filed an affadavit on Thursday asking the courts to remove her from life support. He called the hospital’s behavior “cruel and obscene mutilation of a deceased body.” Marlise’s own father told the New York Times, “All she is is a host for a fetus.” Both medical and legal experts said that Marlise was for all intents and purposes dead and that a dead person cannot be considered a “patient.”

A judge ruled on Friday that the hospital must take Marlise off life support by 5 p.m. on Monday, stating “Marlise Munoz is deceased.” She was finally removed from her ventilator on Sunday morning. The family’s attorneys released the following statement:

May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey.

I am ultimately grateful that the Fort Worth judge showed compassion and mercy for this poor woman and her family. But there’s a sinking feeling in my stomach that the ultimate motivation for the decision was because her “unborn child” was not viable, NOT because of Marlise’s wishes. Last week, lawyers for the Munoz family said her fetus is “distinctly abnormal,” “deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined” and has a “possible heart problem.” It was clear that the fetus was not at all viable and would never live outside the womb. But if, by some stroke of insane luck, her fetus had been healthy, would the court still have respected Marlise’s wishes by effectively giving her an abortion? I don’t think so. And that’s ultimately the problem with this Texas law — which is on the books in 31 states.

In their own statement, John Peter Smith Hospital explained they “followed what we believed were the demands of a state statue.”

[Dallas Morning News]

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