Judge: Marlise Muñoz to be removed from life support

Judge: Marlise Muñoz to be removed from life support

Credit: Family photo / WFAA

Judge: Marlise Muñoz to be removed from life support

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by Associated Press and WFAA

kvue.com

Posted on January 24, 2014 at 5:32 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 24 at 5:46 PM

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- A judge on Friday ordered a Texas hospital to remove life support for a pregnant, brain-dead woman.

Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. issued the ruling in the case of Marlise Muñoz . John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth has been keeping Muñoz on life support against her family's wishes. The judge gave the hospital until 5 p.m. Monday to remove life support.

Muñoz was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot.

Erick Muñoz says he and his wife are paramedics who were clear that they didn't want life support in this type of situation. Muñoz filed a lawsuit against John Peter Smith Hospital seeking to remove life support from his wife. He said Marlise was clear about her wishes not to be kept alive in that state.

Muñoz's attorney argued that keeping the woman alive would set a dangerous precedent for future cases of pregnant, brain-dead women. The Muñoz family attorneys argued Mrs. Muñoz is brain-dead, and therefore can't be considered a "pregnant patient."

But John Peter Smith Hospital had argued that it had to protect the life of the unborn child.

Texas' Health and Safety Code says a person cannot "withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment [...] for a pregnant patient." The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, which represented the hospital, said the request to remove Marlise Muñoz from life support “ignores consideration of the unborn child.”

Hospital officials have said they were bound by that state law, but several experts interviewed by The Associated Press have said the hospital is misapplying the law.

The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. It also has gripped attention on both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Muñoz's fetus deserves a chance to be born.

Earlier this week, Erick Muñoz's attorneys said that the fetus, now believed to be at about 22 weeks' gestation, is "distinctly abnormal." They attorneys said they based that statement on medical records they received from the hospital.

The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, which is representing the hospital in the lawsuit, said the hospital was expected to issue a statement later Friday in response to the ruling.

Not much is known about fetal survival when mothers suffer brain death during pregnancy. German doctors who searched for such cases found 30 of them in nearly 30 years, according to an article published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2010.

Those mothers were further along in pregnancy — 22 weeks on average — when brain death occurred than in the Texas case. Birth results were available for 19 cases. In 12, a viable child was born. Follow-up results were available for six, all of whom developed normally.

Fort Worth attorney Trent Loftin, who isn't connected to the case, said he believes Friday's hearing in front of District Judge R.H. Wallace likely won't be the end of the case. 

"I think whatever the judge decides, the other side will appeal to the second court of appeals and eventually to the supreme court of the state of Texas," Loftin said.

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