Fort Worth hospital ends life support for Marlise Muñoz

Marlise Muñoz

Credit: Family photo

Family members say 33-year-old Marlise Muñoz is brain dead and they want doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth to remove her from life support. The hospital refuses because she is pregnant.

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by NOMAAN MERCHANT

Associated Press

Posted on January 26, 2014 at 2:08 PM

A Texas hospital said Sunday that it would remove life support from a pregnant, brain-dead woman following a judge's order that it was misapplying state law to disregard her family's wishes.

J.R. Labbe, a spokeswoman for John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, issued a statement Sunday that says the hospital "will follow the court order" issued Friday in the case of Marlise Muñoz.

Life support was terminated at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Heather King and Jessica Janicek, attorneys for Marlise's husband Erick Muñoz, issued a brief statement to confirm what happened:

"The Muñoz and Machado families will now proceed with the somber task of laying Marlise Muñoz’s body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered. May Marlise Muñoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey."

Judge R.H. Wallace had given the Fort Worth hospital until 5 p.m. Monday to comply with his ruling to remove Muñoz from life support, which Erick Muñoz says is what his wife would have wanted.

She was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot.

"From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it," the statement from the hospital said. "On Friday, a state district judge ordered the removal of life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Muñoz. The hospital will follow the court order."

Both the hospital and family agreed before Wallace's ruling that Marlise Muñoz meets the criteria to be considered brain-dead - which means she is dead both medically and under Texas law - and that her fetus, at about 23 weeks, could not be born alive this early in pregnancy.

The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. It also has garnered attention on both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Muñoz's fetus deserves a chance to be born.

Erick Muñoz and his wife are both paramedics familiar with end-of-life issues and knew they did not want to be kept alive by machines in this type of situation.

Muñoz described in a signed affidavit Thursday what it was like to see his wife now: her glassy, "soulless" eyes; and the smell of her perfume replaced by what he knows to be the smell of death. He said he tried to hold her hand but can't.

"Her limbs have become so stiff and rigid due to her deteriorating condition that now, when I move her hands, her bones crack, and her legs are nothing more than dead weight," Muñoz said.

But the hospital argued it was bound by Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient, regardless of her end-of-life wishes.

Legal experts interviewed by The Associated Press have said the hospital was misreading the law and that the law doesn't have an absolute command to keep someone like Muñoz on life support.

Larry Thompson, a state's attorney arguing on behalf of the hospital Friday, said the hospital was trying to protect the rights of the fetus as it believed Texas law instructed it to do.

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

But on Sunday, the hospital said it would respect the judge's order and back down.


Full statement from JPS Health Network:

"The past eight weeks have been difficult for the Muñoz family, the caregivers and the entire Tarrant County community, which found itself involved in a sad situation. JPS Health Network has followed what we believed were the demands of a state statute. From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it. On Friday, a state district judge ordered the removal of life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Muñoz. The hospital will follow the court order."


 

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