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Pregnant, brain-dead woman's husband sues hospital

By Nomaan Merchant

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 05:33 a.m. HST, Jan 15, 2014

DALLAS » The husband of a brain-dead, pregnant Texas woman sued the hospital keeping her on life support, saying doctors are doing so against her and her family's wishes.

The lawsuit filed in state district court Tuesday asks a judge to order John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth to remove life support for Marlise Munoz, a North Texas woman who was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious on Nov. 26. Her family says the exact cause of her condition isn't known, though a blood clot is a possibility.

The hospital has said a state law prohibits life-saving treatment from being denied to pregnant patients.

Erick Munoz said a doctor told him his wife is considered brain-dead. He says that he and his wife, who are both paramedics, are very familiar with end-of-life issues and that she has made it clear to him that she would not want life support in this kind of situation. Marlise Munoz's parents agree.

Experts familiar with the Texas law say the hospital is incorrectly applying the statute because Munoz would be considered legally and medically dead.

"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 said. "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."

Erick Munoz's lawyers, Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek, also asked for an expedited answer from the court. No hearing was immediately scheduled.

Hospital spokeswoman J.R. Labbe directed questions about the lawsuit to the Tarrant County District Attorney's office, where spokeswoman Melody McDonald Lanier said attorneys were reviewing the case and declined to comment further.

Labbe previously has said hospital officials stand by their position: "This is not a difficult decision for us. We are following the law."

Erick Munoz's lawsuit argues that his directives — and the hospital's decision to not follow them — no longer matter because Marlise Munoz is dead under Texas law.

"As such, her body should instead immediately be released to her family," the lawsuit says.

The family has said they do not know the condition of the fetus. Marlise Munoz is believed to have been without oxygen for some time before her husband found her. Doctors have told Erick Munoz that they are monitoring the fetus, but Munoz has said he's uncertain about how healthy the fetus will be given his wife's condition.

"You know what kind of damage my wife sustained, and what kind of possible damage the baby inside her sustained," he said during a recent interview.

A 2010 article in the journal BMC Medicine found 30 cases of brain-dead pregnant women over about 30 years. Of 19 reported results, the journal found 12 in which a viable child was born and had post-birth data for two years on only six of them — all of whom developed normally, according to the journal.

In refusing to take Marlise Munoz off life support, the hospital has cited a provision 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."

Experts interviewed by The Associated Press, including two who helped draft the legislation, said a brain-dead patient's case wouldn't be covered by the law.

"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. "Under Texas law, this patient is legally dead."

Tom Mayo, a Southern Methodist University law professor, said he did not believe the law applied in this case.

"It simply says that if you were to take the life support away, you'd be outside the subchapter," Mayo said. "It doesn't have an affirmative command in it that you must keep life support going."

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nalogirl wrote:
I hope the family will get justice for Mrs. Munoz, the state has no right to violate her wishes. If the baby is born alive and has health issues, does the state of Texas intend to pay for these expenses? This is out and out discrimination of women, just because she is pregnant she has no right to control what is done whne she dies! Horrible situation fo the family.
on January 14,2014 | 09:18AM
daniwitz13 wrote:
So, by extension, if the baby come out normally and is and become a beautiful Child, the, so called Father wants Nothing to do with the Child? He did not want it then, and would not want it in the Future and would willingly sign adoption papers. God forbid, it looked the splitting image of his Wife. This is NOT an easy one that's for sure. It seems better to be pro-Life, than pro-death, for the Child, that is. The Law regarding death, must be weighed against a Life that the Law did not cover. Do Society snuff out a Life because a Law failed to take it into consideration? Is this a Law issue or a Life issue? Do Society care more for the dead than the Living? The dead is gone, the Living is for tomorrow and beyond. No, I do not know if normalcy will rule in this case. Pity
on January 14,2014 | 11:07AM
jess wrote:
I don't think the fetus is able to survive at 3.5 months on its own, and I can't see it maturing normally in the womb of a mother who is brain dead, on life support, and not receiving adequate nutrition. This isn't society's decision, it's the family's decision.
on January 14,2014 | 12:11PM
cojef wrote:
Isn't it amazing that in California surgical procedures could not be performed on a brain-dead individual. Than in Texas, the hospital wants keep this brain-dead individual on life-support because she is 14 weeks pregnant?????? Yet there has been a number of instances where healthy babies were born while placed under lie-sustaining procedures. The Advance Health Directives drafted by the individual indicated that artificial means not used to sustain her life. This Directive should override the Texas State Law relating pregnant women who are brain-dead..
on January 14,2014 | 11:31AM
ryan02 wrote:
It's sad, but this woman is dead. The hospital has no right to use her dead body as an incubator against her will. I hope her family wins the suit. For people who argue that the fetus' life is more important than the woman's wishes, do you also support FORCED organ donations against someone's will, if it is needed to keep someone else alive? Because I know someone who could use a kidney from you. Please identify yourselves.
on January 14,2014 | 11:48AM
hikine wrote:
So if she's 'legally' dead then why keep a dead person on life sustaining support? Doesn't make sense.
on January 14,2014 | 12:54PM
bumbye wrote:
I think it's all about the baby's right to life. That's why the law is specifically for pregnant women.
on January 14,2014 | 01:33PM
ryan02 wrote:
Nope, doesn't appear to be "all about a baby's right to life" -- otherwise, Texas would require EVERYONE to donate blood, bone marrow, and organs, even AGAINST THEIR WILL, to keep other people alive. I noticed they haven't done that. Perhaps because it would be an obviously unconstitutional invasion of a person's body? Pretty obvious a law like that is unconstitutional. But if it's limited to just taking away a woman's control over her body? Yeah, sure, that's fine. Women shouldn't have that control anyway, it should belong to the menfolks.
on January 14,2014 | 01:46PM
ryan02 wrote:
Because the lawmakers in Texas might be brain dead themselves. To some people, if a machine can force a heart to beat, that constitutes human "life" -- even if there is no human brain to along with it.
on January 14,2014 | 01:41PM
LadyNinja wrote:
Is there proof beyond doubt that this was her wish to die? Hard situation. There is a little baby in her, a precious life. Give life a chance, not much longer to wait anyhow.
on January 14,2014 | 02:45PM
RetiredWorking wrote:
Lady, in some states, the unborn child is not considered a person until that child is delivered. Unsure how Texas rules there. Besides, it'll be 10 weeks before the baby reaches six months, and that is a LONG way to go.
on January 15,2014 | 04:00AM
Mahalo wrote:
One family has to fight in court to keep its child on support in one state and another family is fighting to take off the support. Whats wrong with these pictures??? LAWYERS LAWYERS LAWYERS also getting involved and now we have the craziest rules.
on January 14,2014 | 03:23PM
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