Texas Judge Orders Hospital to Take Brain Dead Pregnant Woman Off Life Support

Munoz Credit CNNFORT WORTH — A Texas judge has ordered that a pregnant woman be removed from life support following a lawsuit from her husband and parents.

As previously reported, 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 two months ago. However, her baby, who was fourteen weeks gestation at the time of the incident, reportedly 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. The family filed a lawsuit against John Peter Smith Hospital earlier this month 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.

“Marlise Munoz is dead, and she gave clear instructions to her husband and family—Marlise was not to remain on any type of artificial ‘life sustaining treatment’, ventilators or the like,” the lawsuit read. “There is no reason JPS should be allowed to continue treatment on Marlise Munoz’s dead body, and this Court should order JPS to immediately discontinue such.”

On Friday, attorneys for both the Munoz family and John Peter Smith Hospital argued the matter in court.

“As I understand the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, if this fetus were not viable [and] Ms. Munoz were alive … she could abort the child,” attorneys for the family also asserted, also noting that the baby was deformed. “No one in this room would want to put their child in an incubator that didn’t work very well … [but the hospital is using] a dead person as a dysfunctional incubator.”

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But attorneys for the hospital noted that it would not be long for the child to be delivered. The baby will be 23 weeks gestation on Monday. Viability is estimated at being 24 to 26 weeks, at which time the hospital would deliver the child and provide care just as other premies are treated.

“There is a life involved and it is the life of an unborn child,” said Assistant District Attorney Larry Thompson. “I don’t want to minimize [Mr. Munoz’s pain], but what he has to do now is wait.”

Following the hearing, Judge R.H. Wallace sided with Munoz’s family, stating that she is deceased and that the law being cited by the hospital does not apply to the dead.

“The provisions of … the Texas Health and Safety Code do not apply to Marlise Munoz because applying the standard used in determining death … Mr. Munoz is dead,” he wrote.

As the hospital had argued at trial that it had never pronounced Munoz dead, Wallace ordered that it now do so and remove her from life support by 5 p.m. Monday.

“Defendants are ordered to pronounce Mrs. Munoz dead and remove the ventilator and all other ‘life sustaining’ treatment from the body of Marlise Munoz no later than 5 p.m., Monday, January 27th 2014,” he declared.

Officials for John Smith Hospital are consulting with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office in consideration of an appeal.

Editor’s Note: Those wishing to urge the hospital to continue to fight for the life of the child may contact John Peter Smith Hospital CEO Robert Early at 817-927-1230 or the Tarrant County Commissioner’s Office at 817-238-4400.

Photo: CNN

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  • Angela Pollier

    If I had a choice between a defective incubator or no incubator at all to save my unborn child, I would definitely choose the defective incubator.