FORT WORTH, Texas » A judge today 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 Munoz. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth has been keeping Munoz on life support against her family’s wishes. The judge gave the hospital until 5 p.m. CST Monday to remove life support.
Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot.
Erick Munoz says he and his wife are paramedics who were clear that they didn’t want life support in this type of situation. His attorney argued that keeping the woman alive would set a dangerous precedent for future cases of pregnant, brain-dead women.
But John Peter Smith Hospital had argued that it had to protect the life of the unborn child.
Hospital officials have said they were bound by a state law prohibiting withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant patient. 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 Munoz’s fetus deserves a chance to be born.
Earlier this week, Erick Munoz’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 today 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.