A Texas judge has ordered that a hospital in Fort Worth remove life support for a brain dead pregnant woman. Marlise Munoz, was being kept on life support at John Peter Smith hospital in Fort Worth, despite repeated requests by her husband that she be removed from life support, as it was not her wish with regards to end of life care. The hospital had argued that since Mrs. Munoz was carrying a fetus, they were bound by state law not to remove care from the pregnant woman.
The recent ruling in Texas by judge R.H. Wallace Jr. was that since the mother in this case was “deceased,” the law requiring that care not be removed from a mother, did not apply. The order reportedly drew tears from the woman’s family, although her family had joined her spouse in calling for the removal of life support.
Munoz had been believed to be 22-weeks pregnant, and lawyers for the Munoz family stated that the fetus was “distinctly abnormal.” The fact that Munoz was pregnant was however at the core of the life support issue, in which John Peter Smith (JPS) hospital in Texas had denied family requests to remove support.
Friday’s ruling by the Texas judge, in which he ordered that the hospital remove care from the brain dead and pregnant Mrs. Munoz has brought up lengthy debate regarding both end of life care, along with abortion and child rights issues. Although the law forbidding the withdrawal of care from a pregnant mother has not been questioned directly, the judge’s decision did highlight that once a woman is “deceased” that law no longer directly applies. It is interesting to note however that at least in this specific case, the status of the fetus was not clearly determined to be healthy. It is not clear that the status of the fetus swayed the judges decision, however, it would not be difficult to speculate that a healthy and normal fetus may have potentially made the decision a bit more complex.
The Munoz family, along with Munoz’s husband appeared relieved that the entire affair had finally reached a conclusion. Eric Munoz, the husband, said “It’s hard to reach the point where you wish your wife’s body would stop.” This coming after other statements where he had clearly stated his belief that his wife was completely deceased and that the body he found himself looking at was no longer his wife.
Eric had found his wife unconscious on the floor of the couples Texas home, apparently the result of a pulmonary embolism that rendered her brain dead. Since that time, it was discovered that she was pregnant, leading JPS to refuse multiple requests to remove her from life support. The events which took place throughout the drawn out ordeal have highlighted many sensitive areas of law. The Munoz family expressed frustration at the law which was cited by JPS to repeatedly deny the family and spouse’s requests.
The Friday ruling by Judge Wallace ordering the hospital in Texas to remove life support for the brain dead and pregnant Mrs. Munoz has finally brought some closure to a very complex and sensitive issue. The judgement ordered the hospital to pronounce Munoz as dead and to remove all instruments and treatment of life support from her body.
By Daniel Worku