Family of pregnant, brain-dead woman will sue Texas hospital keeping her on life support

By David Ferguson
Saturday, January 11, 2014 11:39 EDT
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Heart monitor screen via Shutterstock http://tinyurl.com/n7f5lfm
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Relatives of a brain-dead, pregnant woman are suing the Texas hospital that is keeping her alive against the family’s wishes. Think Progress reported that Marlise Machado Muñoz’s family is preparing a suit to challenge the Texas law that John Peter Smith Hospital is using as a basis for keeping her on life support in spite of the fact that she has no hope of recovery.

“We do plan on filing some litigation, and it will be filed soon,” said the family’s attorney Heather King to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

King and her partner at the family law firm Koons Fuller, Jessica Janicek, declined to reveal their strategy for fighting the law that is keeping Muñoz on a ventilator while the baby inside her gestates.

Muñoz, 33, was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed on Nov. 26 with what doctors believe was a pulmonary embolism — a blockage in the main artery that carries blood from the lungs to the rest of the body. Doctors at Smith Hospital declared the woman dead, but hospital officials have refused to allow her husband Erick Muñoz or other family members to take her off life support.

The hospital is using a state law as justification for overriding the family’s wishes. “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment…from a pregnant patient,” says the statute, which dates from the 1970s.

Smith Hospital’s main attorney on the case is anti-choice crusader Neal Adams, who led a campaign to forbid hospital personnel from performing abortions for any reason in 1988. He sits on the advisory board of Euless, Texas’ Northeast Tarrant Right-to-Life Educational Association.

The Star-Telegram spoke to Art Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, who said, “I think the Texas law cannot apply to the dead. I think the hospital is wrong to insist that it does.”

Caplan said that Erick Muñoz should go to court “to challenge the law both in terms of its application to a dead woman and as an unconstitutional infringement on his right to do what his wife would want.”

Hospital spokesperson J R Labbe told the Star-Telegram, ““We follow the state law. Period. There is no gray area in this.”

[image of heart monitor via Shutterstock.com]

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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