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Family: Brain-dead Texas woman off life support

By Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:20 a.m. HST, Jan 27, 2014


FORT WORTH, Texas >> A brain-dead, pregnant Texas woman's body was removed from life support Sunday, as the hospital keeping her on machines against her family's wishes acceded to a judge's ruling that it was misapplying state law.

Marlise Munoz's body soon will be buried by her husband and parents, after John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth announced it would not fight Judge R.H. Wallace Jr.'s Friday order to pronounce her dead and return her body to her family. The 23-week-old fetus she was carrying will not have a chance to be born.

The hospital's decision Sunday brings an apparent end to a case that became a touchstone for national debates about the beginning and end of life, and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus.

Munoz's husband, Erick Munoz, sued the hospital because it would not remove life support as he said his wife would have wanted in such a situation. Erick and Marlise Munoz worked as paramedics and were familiar with end-of-life issues, and Erick said his wife had told him she would not want to be kept alive under such circumstances.

But the hospital refused his request, citing Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient, regardless of her end-of-life wishes. 

Wallace sided Friday with Erick Munoz, saying in his order: "Mrs. Munoz is dead."

Wallace had given the hospital until 5 p.m. Monday to comply with his order, but officials there announced Sunday morning that it would forego any appeal.

"From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it," according to a statement released by hospital spokeswoman J.R. Labbe. "On Friday, a state district judge ordered the removal of life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Munoz. The hospital will follow the court order."

Shortly afterward, Erick Munoz's attorneys announced that she had been disconnected from life support about 11:30 a.m.

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

Erick found his wife unconscious in their Haltom City, Texas, home Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot. Doctors soon determined that she was brain-dead, which meant that she was both medically and legally dead under Texas law, but kept her on machines to keep her organs functioning for the sake of the fetus.

Erick Munoz described visiting his wife in the hospital, saying her eyes were now glassy and the smell of her perfume had given way to a smell he knew to be of a dead body. His attorneys told Wallace on Friday that doctors had performed medical care on her body over his protests.

"There is an infant, and a dead person serving as a dysfunctional incubator," attorney Heather King said.

Marlise Munoz's parents, Ernest and Lynne Machado, agreed with Erick Munoz and sat next to him at Friday's hearing.

But Larry Thompson, a state's attorney arguing on behalf of the hospital Friday, said the hospital was trying to protect the rights of the fetus as it believed Texas law instructed it to do. The hospital's attorneys cited a section of the Texas Advance Directives Act that reads: "A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient."

"There is a life involved, and the life is the unborn child," Thompson told the judge.

Legal experts interviewed by The Associated Press said the hospital was misreading the Texas Advance Directives Act and that the law doesn't have an absolute command to keep someone like Munoz on life support.

"This patient is neither terminally nor irreversibly ill," said Dr. Robert Fine, clinical director of the office of clinical ethics and palliative care for Baylor Health Care System, in an interview earlier this month. "Under Texas law, this patient is legally dead."

Erick and Marlise Munoz already had one son, and Erick Munoz told The Associated Press how he had once looked forward to the birth of their second child. But both the hospital and his attorneys agreed the fetus inside Marlise Munoz could not be delivered this early, and not much is known about the fate of children born to mothers who have suffered brain death.

Munoz's attorneys said the fetus had significant abnormalities, including a deformation of the lower body that made it impossible to determine a gender.

Whether the Munoz case leads Texas to change the law remains unclear. In recent years, the Legislature has enacted several new anti-abortion restrictions, including setting the legal guideline for when a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks -- a milestone Marlise Munoz's fetus had passed about three weeks ago.

The case has been noted by Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the two leading candidates running to replace him, but none of them has called for any new laws yet or action as a result of the case.

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, through a spokesman, said the case was a "heartbreaking tragedy" and that "Texas strives to protect both families and human life, and we will continue to work toward that end."

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat from Fort Worth, said through a spokeswoman that any decision like this "should be made by Mrs. Munoz's family, in consultation with her doctors."







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eoe wrote:
This is the danger of living in a republican state. They say they are all about freedom and liberty but in reality once they are in control its tyranny, coercion and oppression. This is truly sick - using a dead person's body as an incubator against the family's wishes to make some political point. "Ooh, look at us every life is so precious, poor unborn baby." Of course we now hear the baby has severe problems (big surprise). Thankfully, a judge finally did the right thing, as had this child been born in Texas we all know what the next step was: downhill as they only care as long as you are fetus but once you are born, no food stamps, insurance, or state support because you are now considered a "socialist moocher."
on January 26,2014 | 08:09AM
aomohoa wrote:
This has nothing to do with republicans. I get sick of people bringing that up. To me its more about hospitals making a lot of money. That's what they care about in every state.
on January 26,2014 | 08:41AM
eoe wrote:
No, this is 100% in Republican's sick, grubby little hands. In their never ending quest to redefine "personhood" to the moment of conception, republicans in Texas passed a law that forbid hospitals to cut off life support to pregnant mothers who might have a viable fetus. This hospital said many times they didn't like it, they were just following the law. And lo and behold, the family finally found a judge who agreed, and the hospital immediately pulled the plug.
on January 26,2014 | 09:07AM
bsdetection wrote:
Ironic, Texas can pull the plug on a brain dead woman, but they can't pull the plug on a brain dead governor.
on January 26,2014 | 02:19PM
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