AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas lawmaker is working to craft a bill that would protect the rights of unborn children in cases where the mother is declared brain dead.
The legislation comes in response to an incident in Fort Worth that made headlines last year as a judge ordered that a pregnant woman be removed from life support as per her family’s wishes, thus ending both her life and that of her nearly 23-week-old unborn child.
As previously reported, in November 2013, Marlise Munoz, 33, was found unconscious in the middle of the night by her husband Erick, 26. 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 had no brain activity over the two months that she spent at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. However, her baby, who was fourteen weeks gestation at the time of the incident, reportedly had a measurable heartbeat, which resulted in a disagreement between the hospital and Munoz’ family.
Munoz’ husband and her parents both wanted the mother removed from life support, asserting that she would not wish to be kept alive by machines. The family filed a lawsuit against John Peter Smith Hospital after officials contended that they could not legally remove Munoz 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.
Following a hearing, Judge R.H. Wallace sided with Munoz’ family, stating that she was deceased and that the law cited by the hospital did not apply to the dead. As the hospital had argued at trial that it had never pronounced Munoz dead, Wallace ordered that it do so and remove her from life support. The hospital decided to comply with the order and removed Munoz from the ventilator two days later.
Munoz later decided to name the deceased baby Nicole—his wife’s middle name—after he requested that the hospital conduct one final sonogram as he wished to learn the sex of the child. However, attorneys for Munoz had released a statement just a week prior claiming that the sex of the child was not able to be determined due to deformities.
Now, Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) is working to craft a bill that seeks to protect the rights of unborn children in such circumstances. Krause’ bill would allow for the baby to have his or her own representative in court, who would argue for the interests of the child.
“You’ll hear what the family wants, and you’ll also give the pre-born child a chance to have a voice in court at that same time,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “The judge weighs everything and he or she makes their decision based on that.”
But Munoz’ parents told the outlet that they oppose the concept.
“To me, that’s saying that my family was not looking out for the best interest of Marlise and the fetus,” mother Lynne Machado stated. “We feel our actions and decisions were based on what was best for both of them.”
Texas Alliance for Life and Texans for Life both back the creation of the legislation.