Hospital executives were originally assessing a Texas judge’s order to remove a pregnant, brain-dead woman from life support. A spokesperson for John Peter Smith (JPS) Hospital, J. R. Labbe, previously indicated that discussions had been ongoing, as hospital administrators sought to investigate the ruling made by Judge R. H. Wallace Jr.
However, officials from the Texas hospital said they would abide by the judge’s ruling and disconnected the patient – Marlise Munoz – from the life support machines. In an e-mailed statement, released on Sunday, the John Peter Smith Health Network claimed they were willing to “… follow the court order,” before going on to explain their initial objections to removing their patient from life support:
“The past eight weeks have been difficult for the Munoz family, the caregivers and the entire Tarrant County community, which found itself involved in a sad situation… From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it.”
As part of the final chapter in the tragic saga, hospital staff cut Marlise Munoz’s life support at approximately 11:30 a.m., electing not to appeal the decision made by Judge Wallace.
The state district judge ordered the Fort Worth hospital to disconnect the respirators and ventilators of the 33-year-old, brain-dead woman, on Friday. The woman’s husband, Erick Munoz, had been battling – along with the patient’s family members – to have his wife’s life support terminated, so the body could be released and funeral preparations organized. Officials from the hospital claimed they were merely adhering to the law. According to CNN, a hospital representative argued that “… life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient… ” should not be withdrawn, in accordance with Texas law, and hospital officials were unable to disconnect her from life support until a cesarean delivery had been performed.
Once Judge Wallace instructed hospital officials to take Marlise off life support, her emotional husband broke down in floods of tears. The judge’s decision was based upon a number of key assessments presented in the court document. Both the family and hospital executives agreed that Marlise Munoz – based upon clinical criteria – was brain-dead, since Nov. 28, 2013. Both parties also reached the consensus that the fetus gestating inside the patient was “not viable,” with Munoz’s lawyers citing medical records showing that the fetus was “distinctly abnormal.” Reportedly, the fetus’ gender could not be determined, due to deformities of the lower extremities, and was thought to have hydrocephalus (a.k.a. water on the brain), as well as a possible heart condition.
Ultimately, the judge concluded that the hospital was misinterpreting Texas law, before setting the deadline for the life support to be removed. Marlise’s husband contended that she would not have wished to have been left brain-dead on life support. Although her wishes were never written down, the family claims that she had verbally expressed the desire not to be placed on life-sustaining equipment.
The judge gave the hospital until 5 p.m. on Monday to disconnect the patient from life support. Subsequently, hospital executives convened with the district attorney’s office, on Jan. 25, to discuss options for the future.
Erick Munoz found his wife unconscious on Nov. 26, 2013, which was thought to have been triggered by a blood clot in her lungs. At the time of the incident, and upon admission to the hospital, Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant; just prior to her death, she was 22 weeks into her pregnancy.
The ruling provides Erick Munoz the opportunity to bury his wife and gain closure. Munoz had previously stated the hospital’s actions represented the “… cruel and obscene mutilation of a deceased body,” and was an act that went against the desires of the patient and her family. Munoz and his partner’s parents, Ernest and Lynne Machado, believed Marlise died a short time after arriving at the hospital.
The high-profile case also reignited the debate over end-of-life treatment and the clinical definition of death. Adding to this, the incident has raised questions over the specific course of action that should be taken in managing pregnant women, medically classified as deceased. Opponents of abortion claim the woman’s fetus had the right to life and, therefore, insisted that Marlise Munoz should have remained on life support to facilitate its birth.
According to a statement released by Mr. Munoz’s lawyer’s, Heather L. King and Jessica Hall Janicek, the family is now planning Marlise’s burial. The pair offered the following final words of comfort to the family:
“May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey.”
By James Fenner