FORT WORTH – A hospital in Texas is being pressured to take a brain dead woman, who is also 20-weeks pregnant, off life support.
Marlise Munoz, 33, has been on a ventilator since late November when her husband Erick, 26, found her unconscious in the middle of the night. According to Mr. Munoz, the woman got up after 2 a.m. to check on their infant son, and when she did not return, he got up to check on both of them, finding his wife collapsed on the floor.
Doctors believe that Munoz suffered a blood clot in her lung, which caused her to collapse. She has had no brain activity since being admitted to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth nearly two months ago. However, her baby, who was fourteen weeks gestation at the time of the incident, has a measurable heartbeat.
But Munoz’ husband and her parents both want the mother removed from life support, asserting that she would not wish to be kept alive by machines. Munoz worked as a paramedic, as does her husband.
“Marlise firmly requested not to be put on life support,” her mother Lynne recently wrote on a local news outlet’s Facebook page. “Her wishes are not being honored.”
However, because Munoz is pregnant, John Peter Smith Hospital states that it cannot legally remove her from the ventilator due to the Texas Advance Directive Act, which states that “a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant woman. Munoz must be kept on life support until the baby can be delivered at a viable stage, usually 24 to 26 weeks gestation.
Her family has now obtained legal counsel, which told reporters on Friday that it planned to take the matter to the courts.
“We do plan on filing some litigation, and it will be filed soon,” attorney Heather King told the Fort Worth Telegram.
Attorneys note that abortion would have been a legal option had the mother not been on life support, and assert that hospital officials are misinterpreting the law.
Representatives for John Peter Smith Hospital state that they welcome the litigation.
“JPS is encouraged by this development because the courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction and resolution in this matter,” remarked spokesman J.R. Labbe in a statement last week. “JPS remains focused on providing compassionate care to all patients while also following the law as it applies to healthcare in the state of Texas.”
On Sunday, a group of nine protesters stood outside the hospital with signs, urging the hospital to remove Munoz from the ventilator. Some of the signs declared “Texas, stop legislating women’s bodies” and “What the state is doing is unnatural.”
The national abortion advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America has also launched a petition to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, urging him to support Munoz’ family’s decision to take the woman off life support.
“The Munoz family deserves better than this—and it’s up to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to show them that the state of Texas respects their wishes and their privacy,” it reads in part.
But Joe Pojman of Texas Alliance for Life says that he applauds the hospital for following the law and keeping the child alive.
“We commend the hospital for apparently doing everything possible to protect the life of the unborn child, who in our view is a separate person,” he told the Dallas News.
Texas Right to Life agreed.
“Mrs. Munoz’s tragic circumstance involves two patients who must be considered,” Melissa Conway, director of external relations told the Christian Post, noting that she is unsure if Munoz is truly brain dead. “Based on the information made public, Mrs. Munoz is not experiencing multi-system organ failure or cell disintegration, and her body is supporting the growth of the child within her—all signs to indicate that her brain, though impaired or quiescent, is still ordering her physiological functions at some level.”
The baby is now 21 weeks gestation.