The ongoing case of Marlise Munoz, the pregnant Texas woman being kept on life support after brain death, took a tragic turn yesterday with the release of medical records by attorneys acting on her husband’s behalf. The notes confirm that the woman’s fetus is “distinctly abnormal,” following the brain death of Munoz.
Abnormalities to the 22-week old fetus include disfigurement to the lower half of such a sever nature that the sex cannot yet be determined. There is also a chance that the fetus may suffer some form of heart failure, as well hydroencephalitis or “water on the brain.” Doctors had previously not commented on the viability of the foetus, and it’s still unclear whether the pregnancy can still carry to term.
Munoz was found unconscious in her family home by her husband, Erick Munoz, in late November. She was rushed to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, where doctors confirmed that there was no detectable brain activity. The cause is unknown, although a blood clot or pulmonary embolism is suspected. The Munoz couple had both worked as paramedics prior to the event, and Munoz had expressed a clear desire that she not be kept on life support in such an event.
However, hospital officials have refused Mr. Munoz’s request to end life support for his wife as she was 14 weeks pregnant at the time of the incident. A spokesperson for the hospital confirmed that they are acting in accordance with state law which says that life-sustaining treatment may not be withheld from a pregnant patient. She has remained on life support for eight weeks, while her husband fights in court and medical experts debate whether or not this law is being applied correctly.
The case against the hospital is due to be heard on Friday. Mr. Munoz is challenging the constitutionality of the law on the grounds that it violates the 14th Amendment. It remains to be see whether the outcome will be affected by the revelation that the woman’s brain death has also left her fetus “distinctly abnormal.”
Meanwhile, experts within Texas continue to debate whether the law is even being applied correctly. The statute that applies in this case, The Advance Directive Acts, contains a specific clause about administering life support in cases involving pregnancy. However, some experts have said that the hospital have failed to consider the Act in its entirety, much of which may not apply when the patient involved is deceased.
As with any incident involving pregnancy, this case has become a new front in the war between pro-life and pro-choice campaigners. Both sides have held vigils outside the hospital over the past two months. The Texas State legislature has in general been attempting to restrict the availability of abortion in the state; in June of last year a bill that would have closed many of the state’s registered clinics was blocked by a filibuster by Democrat Senator Wendy Jackson.
If the legal outcome of this case is unclear, the medical outcome is even less clear. There have been few studies of pregnancy continuing after the brain death of the mother, and none where the foetus is believed to be “distinctly abnormal” as is the case here. The only think that seems certain is that this is a tragic loss for the Munoz family.