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Judge orders pregnant, brain-dead woman removed from life support

FORT WORTH, Texas — A Texas judge Friday ordered life support removed from a pregnant 33-year-old woman who has been kept alive at a public hospital against the wishes of her family.

State District Judge R.H. Wallace ordered John Peter Smith Hospital to discontinue providing life-sustaining measures to Marlise Munoz, who has been hospitalized since just before Thanksgiving after she was stricken by a pulmonary embolism when she was 14 weeks pregnant.

"Mrs. Munoz is dead," Wallace said in issuing his ruling, adding that the hospital was misapplying a state law that prohibits the removal of life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient.

Larry Thompson, a state's attorney representing the hospital, had told the judge the hospital had a legal responsibility to protect the fetus.

"There is a life involved, and the life is the unborn child," Thompson said.

The judge ordered that life support be removed by 5 p.m. CST Monday.

In a statement, the JPS Health Network said it would consult with the District Attorney's Office on whether to appeal.

Jessica Hall Janicek and Heather King, Erick Munoz's attorneys, accused the hospital of conducting a "science experiment" and warned of the dangerous precedent her case could set, raising the specter of special ICUs for brain-dead women carrying babies.

A court document filed shortly before the hearing was set to begin states that Marlise Munoz is 22 weeks pregnant, that she met the clinical criteria for brain death on Nov. 28.

This week, attorneys for the Munoz family released a statement saying that medical records indicate the fetus is "distinctly abnormal," with lower extremities deformed, and suffers from a number of serious health conditions including water on the brain and heart problems. A stipulation of facts signed by Janicek stated that the fetus was not viable.

Erick Munoz and his wife, both paramedics, had discussed removing life support if either fell into a vegetative state.

The family's lawsuit argued that the Texas Advance Directive Act does not extend the prohibition of withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining support to the unborn child.

"Since my wife's death on Nov. 26, 2013, I have had to endure the pain of watching my wife's dead body be treated as if she were alive," Erick Munoz said in an affidavit filed with the court Thursday. "As her husband, I wish every day she was alive, but I am positive that my wife has passed away for many reasons."

The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, which represented the hospital, stated in documents filed Thursday that while there is no case law interpreting the section regarding pregnant patients, the reasonable inference is that it was enacted to protect the unborn child's life "against the wishes of a decision maker who would terminate the child's life along with the mother's."

Texas lawmakers have strongly demonstrated a commitment to protect fetuses by including in the Texas Penal Code a definition that says a human being is alive at every stage of gestation from fertilization to birth. This means someone may commit murder if during the criminal offense a fetus is killed, the document states.

But an attorney who helped rewrite the state law that was used to keep Marlise Munoz alive said lawmakers never discussed it being applied to a brain-dead woman.

"It never would have occurred to us that anything in the statute applied to anyone who was dead," Thomas Mayo said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Judge orders pregnant, brain-dead woman removed from life support 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 11:04pm]
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