Texas hospital forbids husband of brain-dead, pregnant wife to remove her from life support

By Scott Kaufman
Wednesday, December 25, 2013 10:39 EDT
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A Texas man who wants his pregnant wife removed from life-support is being thwarted by hospital officials who insist that Texas law states they must continue to care for her.

Under Texas law, “[a] person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.” Crucially for this case, the law does not specify that the fetus be viable, only that the woman carrying her be pregnant.

When Erick Munoz found his wife, Marlise, unconscious and unresponsive on the kitchen floor in November, she was 14 weeks pregnant. Doctors suspect she had a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot that travels to the lungs — and are unsure how long the fetus went without oxygen and nutrients.

Erick Munoz says that he and his wife, who are both paramedics, have had many conversations about end-of-life care. “We talked about it. We’re both paramedics,” he told WFAA. “We’ve seen things out in the field. We both knew that we both didn’t want to be on life support.”

Her mother, Lynne Machado, agreed, noting that after Marlise’s brother died tragically several years ago, the family had discussed the issue. “We were all on the same page,” Machado told NBC News. “None of us want to be on life support.”

There is no disputing Marlise Munoz’s condition. According to her mother, “they did a CAT scan and an EEG and there was no brain activity. She was clinically declared brain dead. The doctors said she had been without oxygen for well over an hour.”

Hospital officials claim to be sympathetic, and stress that state law prohibits them from removing her from life support. In a statement, a hospital spokesman wrote that “[w]e have a responsibility as a good corporate citizen here in Tarrant County to also provide the highest quality care we can for all of our patients.”

Marlise Munoz’s mother is understandably upset. “The doctors told us that even if a pregnant woman has a DNR or a living will, the law supersedes that,” she said. “So any pregnant woman must be kept alive with life support because of the fetus. We had never heard of this and we wanted to get the information out there. No family should have to go through this. It’s been pure hell.”

The fetus was not viable when Munoz fell ill, nor is it viable today. In addition to being maddened by the hospital’s refusal to honor his wife’s wishes, Erick Munoz is also concerned about the viability and survivability of the fetus, as well as his ability to care for a special needs child given the medical costs that keeping his brain-dead wife on life support for twenty weeks will entail.

["Looking through the eyes of the patient and seeing an ambulance man putting an oxygen mask on" via Shutterstock]

Scott Kaufman
Scott Kaufman
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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