Hospital Will Remove Life Support for Pregnant Woman

Updated, Jan. 26: 

John Peter Smith Hospital announced on Sunday that it would not appeal a judge’s court order to remove Marlise Muñoz, a Fort Worth woman who is pregnant and brain-dead, from life support. Her family removed life support at 11:30 a.m.  

“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,” J.R. Labbe, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said in a statement. She added that hospital believed it was following the demands of state law. “From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it,” she said.

Original story:

A district judge on Friday granted the family of Marlise Muñoz, a Fort Worth woman who is pregnant and brain-dead, permission to remove her from life support.  

Tarrant County District Judge R.H. Wallace said that the Texas law requiring medical personnel to maintain life-sustaining medical care for pregnant patients does not apply if the patient is brain-dead, as Muñoz is. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth has until Monday at 5 p.m. to decide whether to appeal the judge’s ruling; hospital officials say they will consult with the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office before making a decision.

Gov. Rick Perry's office called the case "tragic," and said the governor's prayers are with the family.

"This was a matter for the court," his spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said. 

But Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, said the judge's decision "fails to recognize the interests of the unborn child, who is a separate patient."

At 14 weeks pregnant in November, Muñoz, 33, suffered what doctors believe was a pulmonary embolism. She was nearly dead when her husband, paramedic Erick Muñoz, found her collapsed in their home. Although Erick Muñoz and Marlise Muñoz's family wanted to honor her desire not to be placed on life support, more than a month later, doctors are still keeping her alive.  

Although the hospital could detect a fetal heartbeat, court documents acknowledged that the fetus was not viable. Attorneys for the Muñoz family said the fetus, now 22 weeks along, was “distinctly abnormal” and has water on the brain.

Texas’ advance directives form, as designed by state law, includes the line, “I understand that under Texas law this directive has no effect if I have been diagnosed as pregnant.” A law enacted in 1989 and amended in 1999 further clarifies that "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.” 

Wallace’s ruling confirmed speculation by legal experts that treatment is not considered “life sustaining” if the patient is brain-dead. Although hospitals and doctors use different methods to determine whether a patient is brain-dead, the state has a legal definition: "In the announced opinion of a physician, according to ordinary standards of medical practice, there is irreversible cessation of all spontaneous brain function. Death occurs when the relevant functions cease.”

"This terrible tragedy has shown that there are consequences when politicians interfere in the personal medical decisions of families," Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement. 

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