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Hospital told to take pregnant woman off support

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - For two months, Erick Munoz has sat inside a North Texas hospital room next to his pregnant, brain-dead wife, with what would be their second child together growing inside her.

Now a judge has ruled that the hospital must follow Munoz's wishes and disconnect Marlise Munoz from life support that it's refused to remove in hopes of saving the fetus inside her.

The judge's ruling Friday could give Erick Munoz a long-awaited chance to bury his wife and move forward to care for their son and his relatives. It would also mean the fetus would never be born.

Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. gave John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth until 5 p.m. CST Monday to remove life support. The hospital did not immediately say Friday whether it would appeal.

Both the hospital and the family agree that Marlise Munoz meets the criteria to be considered brain-dead - which means she is dead both medically and under Texas law - and that the fetus could not be born alive this early in pregnancy. But while the hospital says it has a legal duty to protect the fetus, Munoz contends his wife would not have wanted to be kept in this condition. And his attorneys have said medical records show the fetus is "distinctly abnormal."

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 gripped attention on both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Munoz's fetus deserves a chance to be born. Several anti-abortion advocates attended Friday's hearing.

Hospital officials have said they were bound by the Texas Advance Directives Act, which prohibits withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient. But in his brief ruling, Wallace said that "Mrs. Munoz is dead," meaning that the hospital was misapplying the law. The ruling did not mention the fetus.

Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when Erick found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot. The hospital has not pronounced her dead and has continued to treat her over the objections of both Erick Munoz and her parents, who sat together in court Friday.

Larry Thompson, a state's attorney representing the public hospital, told the judge Friday that the hospital recognized the Munoz family's pain and rights, but said it had a greater legal responsibility to protect the fetus.

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

As Wallace gave his ruling, Erick Munoz embraced his wife's parents and one of his attorneys. Munoz declined to comment as he left court Friday. But he told The Associated Press earlier this month, in a phone interview sitting in the hospital room, that he and his wife were both paramedics who knew they didn't want to stay on life support this way.

Munoz described in a signed affidavit filed Thursday what it was like to see her 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's 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," Munoz said.

Jessica Hall Janicek and Heather King, Erick Munoz's attorneys, accused the hospital of conducting a "science experiment" and warned of the dangerous precedent her case could set, raising the specter of special ICUs for brain-dead women carrying babies.

"There is an infant, and a dead person serving as a dysfunctional incubator," King told the judge.

King and Janicek did not say what they would do next, pending a potential appeal by the hospital.

The hospital said in a statement that it "appreciates the potential impact of the consequences of the order on all parties involved" and was deciding whether to appeal.

The hospital argued in a court filing Thursday that there was little evidence of what state lawmakers and courts thought of this issue, but recent laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature to restrict abortion made it clear that they wanted to preserve a fetus' rights.

The Advance Directives Act "must convey legislative intent to protect the unborn child," the hospital said in its filing. "Otherwise the Legislature would have simply allowed a pregnant patient to decide to let her life, and the life of her unborn child, end."

Not much is known about fetal survival when mothers suffer brain death during pregnancy. German doctors who searched for such cases found 30 of them in nearly 30 years, according to an article published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2010.

Those mothers were further along in pregnancy - 22 weeks on average - when brain death occurred than in the Texas case. Birth results were available for 19 cases. In 12, a viable child was born. Follow-up results were available for six, all of whom developed normally.

Judge Orders Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman Off Life Support

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
Foxisenior January 25 2014 at 10:58 AM

IF the baby was in a viable condition, I would say that it be taken from the mother by a C-Section, however the baby is malformed and is not in a viable state and therefore the mother should be taken off life suupport, espcially if that is the will of her husband and her family. The Texas law that states otherwise is irrelevant because the baby is Not in a viable state!

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fjcj32 January 25 2014 at 10:37 AM

This poor man has the whole country playing God telling him what to do. He wants to bury his wife. If they took her off life support and her and the baby lived that's "Gods will". All you trying to play God, leave that to him and stop Judging other people.

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blueeyessing January 25 2014 at 10:37 AM

"And his attorneys have said medical records show the fetus is "distinctly abnormal."


If the fetus was growing and developing normally I would say keep the mother alive if possible, but this one obviously is not though I don't know the details so put them both out of their misery.

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1 reply
Char blueeyessing January 25 2014 at 11:07 AM

If you don't know the details you should look them up. This has been on the news for 2 months now, ever since the woman died. The mother isn't in misery unless you believe she is in heaven watching her rotting corpse be used this way. It is an abomination.

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MOSKI388 January 25 2014 at 10:33 AM

So in Texas they are such God fearing people that they know better what is right for this dead woman then her family ,and it appears even God himself who did not chose to save her from death.She is in heaven and if they took her off life support so would her baby .What is so terrible about that for a severely damaged child .It is a beautiful place where there is no suffering .w have no idea if this baby is feeling pain right now or what it's life will be like not only without its mother but having to deal with severe congenital defects.Those of us Christians who believe life on heaven is truly wonderful and sometimes sad events like that which befell this family can also be remembered in the light of where both their souls will be if they are allowed to go.Momma is already in heaven please pray they allow her tiny deformed baby to follow her there instead of using this poor woman's dead body as an incubator.If a child is viable outside the womb and you can move quickly to deliver it while keeping mom on life support for a few hours that is different. Or if before becoming brain dead a mother said " do ANY thing to save my baby no matter what it is" That would be different too.But we have a dead woman with a husband insisting his wife would not want this.Texas law as the judge stated did not mean to refer to dead women being removed from life support but live women who had signed advanced directives to either not be put on life support at all,or have it removed if it was put on by mistake ,or they had a directive with a certain clause stating how long it should stay on before they wanted it discontinued if they did not wake up .But you can ever make a law saying life support has to stay on a dead person,The only time I know of that any reasonable hospital keeps it on after a person has been declared brain dead is of they have made themselves organ donors.then it is used to protect the organs until they are harvested.But if we allow this as a precedent I can envision all sorts of horror stories in the future involving dead pregnant women.Please if we are going to be religious about this as it seems they have already become in Texas then follow Gods lead and let them BOTH go into the light.

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1 reply
gracecampbell59 MOSKI388 January 25 2014 at 10:41 AM

When Jesus comes back, those who were dead in Christ will be resurrected and go to Heaven with Him along with those who are alive and remain faithful till the end. But until then, may she and the unborn baby RIP.

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IRON CHEF LIM January 25 2014 at 10:33 AM

Such a sad story and my heart breaks for the family. The hospital never should have played God. This is the decision of the husband and no one elses.

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1 reply
Kali IRON CHEF LIM January 25 2014 at 10:39 AM

If you are using GOD....then neither of them have the right.

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maryapuckett January 25 2014 at 2:09 PM

I hope that everyone learns from this sad story and makes their wishes known in WRITING,iTS THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID THIS IN THE FUTURE!

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Stevo January 25 2014 at 10:50 PM

I agree with the family. There is a great possibility the child will not develop properly and this would not be fair to the baby or the family. It's a tough choice to make and in this case a court has decided it. The hospital is relieved of the liability now and should do the right thing and honor the judgment, unless of course they can show absolute proof the fetus will develop and turn out normal... which they cannot.

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1 reply
SUNFLOWERgirl Stevo January 25 2014 at 11:09 PM

A POSSIBILITY is not enough reason to kill the child.

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4 replies
Abusymomof4 January 25 2014 at 4:35 PM

THESE are the facts about the fetus for those that still think she needs to be "hooked up" to those machines:

"According to the medical records we have been provided, the fetus is distinctly abnormal," the attorneys said. "Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined."

The attorneys said the fetus also has fluid building up inside the skull and possibly has a heart problem.

"Quite sadly, this information is not surprising due to the fact that the fetus, after being deprived of oxygen for an indeterminate length of time, is gestating within a dead and deteriorating body, as a horrified family looks on in absolute anguish, distress and sadness,"

The fetus is not going to survive, it is not viable - so it is time to let both of them go in peace and with dignity!

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3 replies
lucloomis January 25 2014 at 4:34 PM

I wonder how this will affect the story of the 13 year old brain dead girl.

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1 reply
leea928 lucloomis January 25 2014 at 4:40 PM

One has nothing to do with the other. The 13 year old's family wants her hooked up to machines. In this case, the family wants their loved one off the machines.

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andreathom84 January 25 2014 at 10:12 AM

My thoughts and prayers to the family!

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