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Pregnant, brain-dead woman's husband sues hospital

Husband Reportedly Suing Hospital To Take Pregnant Wife Off Life Support

DALLAS (AP) - The husband of a brain-dead, pregnant Texas woman on Tuesday sued the hospital keeping her on life support, saying doctors are doing so against her and her family's wishes.

The lawsuit filed in state district court asks a judge to order John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth to remove life support for Marlise Munoz, a North Texas woman who was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious on Nov. 26. Her family says the exact cause of her condition isn't known, though a blood clot is a possibility.

The hospital has said a state law prohibits life-saving treatment from being denied to pregnant patients.

Erick Munoz said a doctor told him his wife is considered brain-dead. He says that he and his wife, who are both paramedics, are very familiar with end-of-life issues and that she has made it clear to him that she would not want life support in this kind of situation. Marlise Munoz's parents agree.

Experts familiar with the Texas law say the hospital is incorrectly applying the statute because Munoz would be considered legally and medically dead.

"Marlise Munoz is dead, and she gave clear instructions to her husband and family - Marlise was not to remain on any type of artificial 'life sustaining treatment', ventilators or the like," the lawsuit said. "There is no reason JPS should be allowed to continue treatment on Marlise Munoz's dead body, and this Court should order JPS to immediately discontinue such."

Erick Munoz's lawyers, Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek, also asked for an expedited answer from the court. No hearing was immediately scheduled.

Hospital spokeswoman J.R. Labbe directed questions about the lawsuit to the Tarrant County District Attorney's office, where spokeswoman Melody McDonald Lanier said attorneys were reviewing the case and declined to comment further.

Labbe previously has said hospital officials stand by their position: "This is not a difficult decision for us. We are following the law."

Erick Munoz's lawsuit argues that his directives - and the hospital's decision to not follow them - no longer matter because Marlise Munoz is dead under Texas law.

"As such, her body should instead immediately be released to her family," the lawsuit says.

The family has said they do not know the condition of the fetus. Marlise Munoz is believed to have been without oxygen for some time before her husband found her. Doctors have told Erick Munoz that they are monitoring the fetus, but Munoz has said he's uncertain about how healthy the fetus will be given his wife's condition.

"You know what kind of damage my wife sustained, and what kind of possible damage the baby inside her sustained," he said during a recent interview.

A 2010 article in the journal BMC Medicine found 30 cases of brain-dead pregnant women over about 30 years. Of 19 reported results, the journal found 12 in which a viable child was born and had post-birth data for two years on only six of them - all of whom developed normally, according to the journal.

In refusing to take Marlise Munoz off life support, the hospital has cited a provision of the Texas Advance Directives Act that reads: "A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient."

Experts interviewed by The Associated Press, including two who helped draft the legislation, said a brain-dead patient's case wouldn't be covered by the law.

"This patient is neither terminally nor irreversibly ill," said Dr. Robert Fine, clinical director of the office of clinical ethics and palliative care for Baylor Health Care System. "Under Texas law, this patient is legally dead."

Tom Mayo, a Southern Methodist University law professor, said he did not believe the law applied in this case.

"It simply says that if you were to take the life support away, you'd be outside the subchapter," Mayo said. "It doesn't have an affirmative command in it that you must keep life support going."

Join the discussion

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suzy@whitelawtru January 14 2014 at 5:18 PM

Sounds to me like we need to refine the definition of dead.

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Pastor Ric January 14 2014 at 7:24 PM

This is a very difficult case, especially from a faith-based position. I believe that this woman and her family have every right to no wish for life-support, but the baby she's carrying doesn't have a choice... who speak for the child?

That said, I am a compassionate man and I don't want to see this wife's family suffer, however there are factors to be considered... what risks are there to the baby is s/he is allowed to continue to develop within a mother being kept alive by artifical means? What are the chances of that child having an kind of quality life free of major defect or complication?

I believe these questions need to be asked.

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TDC January 14 2014 at 7:02 PM

...or those of judging this family could collectively adopt the baby! After all you are passing judgement on someone you don't know and based solely on news reports. Are you sure he doesn't want the fetus. Do you know what the trained professionals have told him? I wouldn't know, I haven't walked in his shoes nor am I in a position to judge. Is it happening or has it happened to you? Perhaps if we all tended to our own affairs and left those in the situation at hand to deal with theirs we might have less problems in this world?! Hmmmmm

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SUPERMOM January 14 2014 at 5:15 PM

what a sad situation. I have a few questions though. Why don't the doctors know what happened to her? Second, the doctors should also be able to determine whether or not the baby is okay, right? And third, did the woman write down her wishes? Doesn't it seem really strange that an otherwise healthy woman suddenly collapses?

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1 reply
fendergibs SUPERMOM January 14 2014 at 5:27 PM

they would have to do an atopsy to confirm cause of death, which is not uncommon to confirm cause

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jcanever January 14 2014 at 7:01 PM

Apparently, God has spoken directly into the ear of the prima donnas who run the hospital. Do they not have any compassion at all for those who love her?

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1 reply
gilbertpaulaj jcanever January 14 2014 at 7:16 PM

They do have compassion and shouldn't be forced to be murderers. This is where we are at. Do you want Albert Schweitzers or do you want Joseph Mengelas? You can't kill somebody and kill your conscience & still care. Even animal killers end up killing humans because they've lost all compassion & don't value life. .

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2 replies
dragondancer1814 gilbertpaulaj January 14 2014 at 7:19 PM

This woman is already BRAIN DEAD, so technically turning off the machines isn't KILLING anybody-it's just allowing the inevitable to take place.

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tawnmaru gilbertpaulaj January 14 2014 at 7:32 PM

Stop equating this situation to Nazis. There is no similarity. it's just histrionics.

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borodach1 January 14 2014 at 7:00 PM

This issue is being muddled by the hospital for reasons i do not understand. The patient had clear directives and so does her husband and they both clearly understand what is involved. If she cannot great with out a ventilator then she is brain dead.. An attempt to wean her while administering 100% oxygen can be made. I suspect she would fail such test and not make any respiratory attempts. This is abuse of a dead body which is reprehensible. Those who impugn the distressed husband motives i doubt have ever gone thru and such pain. As for my own credential I am a retired Intensivist. I feel deeply the need to respect life This is horrible

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2 replies
Mark borodach1 January 14 2014 at 7:12 PM

Prove she had clear directives, please. We have only the husband's word for that, nothing in writing.
And your proposed murder of a viable baby in the womb is indefensible.
I propose that you do there and volunteer to pull the plug yourself to prove your convictions.
Come on, we're waiting......
(Does a retired intensivist have some kind of actual degree in medicine?)

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3 replies
gilbertpaulaj borodach1 January 14 2014 at 7:26 PM

She had no living will. All they have is the testamony of her husband and he himself does not say that she included being pregnant.

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bambi4318.barbara January 14 2014 at 6:59 PM

This was a poorly written and enacted law by the court, it completely dis-regards the wishes of the family. This so called law is forcing the deceased mother to be nothing more than a human incubator.

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1 reply
gilbertpaulaj bambi4318.barbara January 14 2014 at 7:28 PM

And is not a human worthy of being incubated? Are you writing a living will to include killing your baby if you're In an accident? If I killed a pregnant dog, you can bet I would be charged with anilmal cruelty.

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1 reply
tawnmaru gilbertpaulaj January 14 2014 at 7:34 PM

You wouldn't be charged for animal cruelty in the death of the unborn puppies, no. You would not face, like 12 counts of animal cruelty for instance, although that is irrelevant to this discussion.

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smcmahon1949 January 14 2014 at 6:58 PM

this case is so sad but i agree with the family as a retired Rn this young lady needs to be taken off life support now its not like she was at the end of her pregnancy and he saw her collapse this woman is dead god rest her soul and her infant will surely suffer from some sort of anoxia if the mother did and as the article indicates early in pregnancies if kept on life support the fetuses don't fair well the state is subjecting this child to a possible life of HELL for no reason i pray god gives the court the wisdom to do the right thing by this family my condolences to all

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1 reply
Mark smcmahon1949 January 14 2014 at 7:16 PM

Damn good thing you're retired, since you advocate murder - and since you apparently can't read, either.
There is NO evidence at all that the state is subjecting this child to anything; or are you gullible enough to take the husband's unsubstantiated word for all of this bull?
Read the article again, please ms. RN.
There is no evidence of anoxia to either mother or child - just his fears (or what he says are his fears - no facts back that up).

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keepersmomvt January 14 2014 at 6:57 PM

Does this mean that after the birth of the child, the woman can be removed from life support?

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1 reply
Jennifer T. keepersmomvt January 14 2014 at 7:10 PM

Well, according to the pro-lifers, the rights of a non-viable fetus trump the rights of the mother. So yes, they will probably be ok with cutting off life support after the baby is born. She is nothing to them.

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lmen579 January 14 2014 at 6:57 PM

I always thought we lived in the United States.... what happen to our freedom.
This is a very sad story. It should be all about the "patient, her husband and family... not about what we think they should do..
As for the hospital if they want to keep this poor girl a live by a machine then they should take full responsibility and forgo all hospital bills..
Do others realize that when it comes time for the arrival of the baby she will have to a major surgery ---- a c-section??

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1 reply
socaldfun lmen579 January 14 2014 at 7:14 PM

We DO have freedom, and if you want your desires to be followed, create an Advance Healthcare Directive regarding your end-of-life choices. However, what we are NOT free to do is to decide to take the life of a 14 week old fetus, even in a mother who had had such a directive regarding her own life. I am pro-choice, but it is not the husband's or parents' right to now say that essentially this young woman would want the fetus to die. The hospital is doing the right thing in a morally tricky situation...they are preserving the life of the unborn child to the best of their ability. Once this child is born, the family can decide to take her off life support. Yes, she will have to be on support for a few more months, but not forever. And THAT'S the situation that most people object to...being on life support for years, forever. This will not be for an indefinite period - it will be about 5 months or so, when the fetus will likely be viable.

And this family does not have to take responsibility for this baby if they do not wish to - they can leave it at this or any hospital.

And, what does it matter if a brain-dead person who you argue should just be taken off life support, has a C-section? She won't know it, won't feel it, and will not have to go through the recovery! It's a non-event to her. In terms of insurance, I am sure the hospital will be eating a large chunk of her care.

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1 reply
tawnmaru socaldfun January 14 2014 at 7:35 PM

Spouse become automatic health care conservators when their partner is unable to make decisions for themselves. So don't act like the husband has no say in this. It is his right.

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