Brain death and pregnancy have caused a problem for Texas officials, who are refusing to take a woman off life support despite it being against her wishes. The husband of the woman, Erick Munoz, says that his wife never wanted to be put on life support.
Munoz and his wife were both Tarrant County paramedics, and knew all about their end-of-life decisions. Marlise Munoz stated that she did not want to be put on life support, but doctors opted for that after a suspected pulmonary embolism in November. The 33-year-old told Munoz that she did not want to be “kept alive by machines” after losing her brother years ago.
The problem for the couple is that there is a baby involved. Mrs. Munoz is 18 weeks pregnant, so the state laws of Texas prevent the hospital from following her and her husband’s wishes. The life of a fetus is always put before the wishes of the mother and father. However, doctors cannot be certain if a lack of oxygen will cause a problem for the growing baby. They also cannot say how long the baby was without oxygen and nutrients.
Mr. Munoz understands what the lack of oxygen could possibly mean for his unborn child, and the decisions he makes now will affect the baby’s future. It shows how pregnancy can complicate brain death issues, since Texas doctors are now refusing to abide by the woman’s wishes and take her off life support. If they did, they could face criminal charges.
Mr. Munoz found his wife on the living room floor after her collapse. She was not breathing and he had to perform CPR before calling 911. She did not regain consciousness and has been on life support since. The heartbeat of the fetus is currently normal. Mr. Munoz explained that he knows his decisions will be unpopular with many, but this is what his wife wanted.
He will have to take the case to court, but it will be hard to convince a judge to put the mother’s wishes before the unborn child. While a judge may sympathize with Munoz’s wishes, if a pregnancy is going well brain death does not mean the end of the mother’s life.
Many people have asked why his wife signed a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order. Despite the Munoz’s talking about it between themselves, the paperwork was not officially filed, so the doctors had no choice but to try and save her life. However, in this case a DNR would not have changed the outcome. When signing the DNR order, there is a box that explains it will not override Texas state law should a woman be pregnant.
The doctors must keep Mrs. Munoz alive for the next 18-22 weeks, until the baby reaches full term and can safely be delivered.
This is something that has happened in the past, and the hospitals have always followed the same procedures. They must follow the laws stating that as soon as doctors find out that there is a pregnancy, they must do everything possible to keep the mother alive. It is unfortunate for this woman who never wanted to face this after brain death, but doctors in Texas refuse to take her off life support while she is still pregnant.
By Alexandria Ingham