A woman who is reportedly both definitively brain-dead and pregnant is being kept alive via life support against her husband’s wishes by a Texas hospital. The case presents a sharp contrast to that of a brain-dead 13-year-old, Jahi McMath, whose family has spent weeks trying desperately to keep her attached to life-giving machines.
Erick Munoz found his 33-year-old pregnant wife, Marlise Munoz, unconscious in the couple’s home just prior to Thanksgiving on Nov. 26. Though the exact cause of her death remains unknown, a pulmonary embolism is suspected. She has been hospitalized at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas since the incident that led to her brain death.
Munoz says it has not been easy to make the decision that his wife should not remain on life support, but that he is certain that that is what she would have wanted. The couple have both worked as paramedics and Munoz says that as a result they understand the reality of a declaration of brain death. He said “We’ve talked about it…We both knew that we didn’t want to be on life support.”
Munoz has also expressed concern about the possible issues his unborn child could face, assuming it even survives, as it is unclear at this point how long the fetus was deprived of oxygen and other nutrients during the mother’s ordeal. The child could be delivered as early as 24 to 28 weeks into the pregnancy via caesarean section.
While Munoz has been clear that his desire is to see his wife removed from life support since he was reportedly informed that she is brain-dead, the hospital claims that it has no choice but to keep her attached to the machines because she is pregnant. The hospital has stated that the decision is an easy one, because they are simply following Texas law.
The hospital is reportedly citing a section of the Texas Advance Directives Act that states “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient” as support for their decision.
Several leaders in the field are weighing in on the case to express their skepticism as to whether the hospital is truly upholding the intent of the law as they ignore Erick Munoz’s pleas to remove his brain-dead, pregnant wife from life support. One expert says that the law should not be applied to this case because the patient is already legally dead and is neither “terminally nor irreversibly ill.”
As the disagreement continues, Erick Munoz is left to continue experiencing what he describes as “a roller coaster of emotions.” His grief marches on as he tries to provide some sense of normalcy for the couple’s 14-month-old son while also continuing to visit his wife’s hospital bedside. While he says that he knows that his wife’s body is now “simply a shell,” he still finds himself talking to her about their life together and their son.
Munoz says he does not wish to take legal action to seek an injunction against the hospital to prevent them from continuing his brain-dead, pregnant wife’s life support, but reportedly has not ruled it out completely at this point either. He reportedly wishes to avoid a lengthy legal battle if at all possible. He is most interested in bringing attention to the issue to encourage clarification in the Texas law so that if a similar situation were to occur in the future, others could avoid such confusion and conflict.
By Michele Wessel