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Pregnant, brain-dead Texas woman taken off life-support

Senior Reporter

Published: Monday, January 27, 2014

Updated: Monday, January 27, 2014 22:01

Erick Munoz

Ron T. Ennis | Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Associated Press

Erick Munoz makes his way through cameras as he leaves a Fort Worth, Texas courtroom after a judge ruled that his wife and unborn child could be removed from life support on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. On the left is the mother of Marlise Munoz. Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. issued the ruling Friday in the case of Marlise Munoz. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth has been keeping Munoz on life support against her family's wishes.

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After declared brain dead in November 2013, a pregnant Texas woman was taken off life support Sunday.

Texas Judge R.H. Wallace ruled Friday that Haltom City resident Marlise Munoz, 33, be removed from life support.

Munoz was 14-weeks pregnant when her husband, Erick Munoz, found her unconscious due to a blood clot on Nov. 26, exactly two months before she was taken off of life support.

According to Erick Munoz, who is a paramedic, he and his wife had discussed possible end-of-life situations and Marlise Munoz had told him that she would not want to be on life-support in such a situation.

Despite her family’s wishes to take her off of life support, Marlise Munoz spent the remainder of her life on life support in compliance with a state law at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. As a result, Erick Munoz sued the hospital.

CBS News reported that Larry Thompson, the state’s attorney representing the hospital, cited a section of the Texas Advance Directives Act of 1999 during litigation that reads: “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.”

According to Sam Houston State University associate philosophy professor Diana Buccafurni-Huber, Ph.D., the law Thompson was citing pertains to patients — meaning someone alive, in which Marlise Munoz was not.

“In Texas, there’s the heart-lung definition of death when your heart and lungs no longer work and the brain definition of death when your entire brain is nonfunctional. She was brain dead,” Buccafurni-Huber said. “So you are keeping a corpse on machinery. How is this right? It’s kind of a mutilation of human rights. They were both paramedics and had seen people in this condition. The hospital should respect autonomy.”

Prior to the ruling, the hospital and the family both agreed that Marlise Munoz met the criteria to be considered both medically and legally dead, and at 23-weeks pregnant she was unable to deliver her fetus alive.

In addition, according to the Associated Press, the Munoz’s attorneys, Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek claimed that the fetus was “distinctly abnormal.”

“A couple of days before the ruling it became clear that the fetus was abnormal and had physical deformities which raises another question,” Buccafurni-Huber said. “Was the state only willing to keep her on life-support if the fetus was normal? Or would they take her off as soon as they found out the fetus was impaired? It’s up in the air.”

Wallace sided with the Munoz family in his ruling, stating that the hospital was misinterpreting the law.

The hospital had until 5 p.m. Monday night to comply with the ruling.

“I don’t know what is the right thing to do, but what I do think is that she wasn’t alive. She was legally dead,” Buccafurni-Huber said. “It’s not clear to me who is being harmed if you were to continue to keep her on machinery. It might be hard for her husband to see her in that state, but she can’t feel pain if she is brain dead so who is being harmed?”

Despite the controversy, Buccafurni-Huber said she does not foresee any amendments to the current law as a result.

“The whole issue is that she was dead,” Buccafurni-Huber said. “You can’t take safe-haven in a law over patients who aren’t alive. It’s really just their human remains. I don’t see the law being changed because it is very clear it was just misapplied.”

According to Buccafurni-Huber, motivation is also a key concept in political controversies such as these.

“Our state is a strong right-to-life state with strict standards for women who want to have abortions,” Buccafurni-Huber said. “Unless the state departs from the right-to-life, they probably won’t change it.”

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