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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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n6fb January 25 2014 at 9:58 AM

I can't believe that anybody could write this, unless it is intended as ajoke

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sandrasophiasa January 25 2014 at 9:47 AM

so sad :(

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BB January 25 2014 at 9:47 AM

As a mother and grandmother myself, putting myself in this woman's place, I would want my wishes honored by the hospital. As a human being, I find it cruel to allow life support to continue. The damage done to the unborn child is obvious. If the mother was deprived of oxygen and is brain dead, the child is probably brain dead as well. The humane thing is to let her and her baby go.

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1 reply
WELCOME, NANCY BB January 25 2014 at 10:07 AM

I totally agree with you BB...I think it is unhumane for her body as the husband describes it to continue on life support...He can't even hold her hand, its still to wear bones crack and break when she's touched..I don't know how TX was allowed to keep her on support like this..If she had been further along in her pregnacy than I would have "maybe" thought differently..What a sad story..I hope the hospital doesn't go to back to the courts to fight it...Let this young father go on with her son and family...Bury the woman with the baby and acknowledge the baby on the head stone...I pray for this young father and the girls family...Very very sad.....

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Abusymomof4 January 25 2014 at 9:46 AM

You pro-life people amaze me so, instead of the opinions that people like to give here are the actual FACTS:

(1) The woman is DEAD - period - dot, dash, ditto. Her heart is being kept going by a machine -
""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
AND
(2) 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 attorneys said.

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Robbie January 25 2014 at 9:45 AM

I've read all the rants about the rights of the child and all the name calling to the judge and the family. Some of these didn't read on where some clearly negative health issues in the womb are outlined. The half baked abusive rants are easliy crafted, but little thought, and I'm sure , little conviction and emotion are fuleing them. The loss of the wife, and the almost certain loss of the child, if allowed to go to term, is not being considered. If it survies, the existence will be so heartbreaking and horrfic for the child, if congnitive at all, and certainly for the family who has suffered greatly and for quite a while, at this point. So these angry post about the family and how they should feel are no more than a labor of poorly thought out grandstanding. There is little to no consideration of what the family has gone through or could potentilally endure. I am sure I, too, am only scratching the surface of what they have suffered and could suffer. However, I know enough not to get self righteous with declarations of what they should feel and what they should do. I have never lost focus on the family that is left with emotional trama beyond my scope or possibly my endurance. My thoughts,prayers, and what little understanding I could possibly have in this ordeal, are with them,

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1 reply
kindamara Robbie January 25 2014 at 9:49 AM

Nicely said. We, the public, don't always know the full story. We only know what the media wants to report. Let the family grieve in peace.

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1 reply
albertcat kindamara January 25 2014 at 10:03 AM

Indeed. Not only to we not know a LOT about the actual situation, the anti-choice people are running on emotion with little to no understanding of what is actually going on.... and not even the emotions of the family involved, but their OWN sophomoric emotional responses devoid of the reality of the situation. All antichoice arguments are like that: ego driven, emotional spasms with zero consideration of science, logic, or realities of now or the future. Thinking is required in these situation....deep, compressive thinking and reason, not just sophomoric feel good notions with little or no grounding in reality.

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mark January 25 2014 at 11:39 AM

Ahhh, to hear all there anti-choice punks complain about the death of the baby....KNOWING FULL WELL that the instant it is born, they would be the first to throw it under a bus, with the umbilical cord still attached, the second it needs care paid for by them

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1 reply
fivemillion mark January 25 2014 at 11:45 AM

that is not true. go find a maternity home and ask for past references and ask THOSE WOMEN that have been helped. Mark you have absolutely no clue about what you are talking about.

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1 reply
bmwrjw fivemillion January 25 2014 at 12:57 PM

Been there. Done that. All the mothers but one had her child adopted by upstanding well to do parents except for the girl whose child was born with a cleft palate and club foot. She was not adopted and spent several years in a hospital for children until she died. Such a wonderful life. You are the one without a clue.

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tacoyle91 January 25 2014 at 9:43 AM

This is not a case of murder! The mother is already dead, only kept alive on machines. We don't know how long she was down before her husband found her! I am a NICU nurse and it doesn't take long for SEVERE damage to be done to a fetus when deprived of oxygen and proper blood flow. The results are showing that the baby is severly abnormal, let them be together in peace!

Flag Reply +13 rate up
diverguy290 January 25 2014 at 9:43 AM

29 years ago today, My late wife and I had a baby girl, at 6 days old she was diagnosed with a fatal heart condidtion. We were given three options. W chose to remove her from life support and she died 4 days later. We agreed that it would the easiest way but it was the hardest one I have ever made. My mother watched a child from six months old to 16 years when he died, his brain was oxygen starved at birth and failed to grow past a survival level, he ate, breathed. He never sat up, etc. That memory helped me make that decision for my daughter. Being in a bed on life support or never able to move on your own is not a life, its existing. I saw how the parents of that little boy struggled.I am glad the Judge ruled as he did.

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peleroja41 January 25 2014 at 11:40 AM

This family deserves the right to move on and grieve this entire situation privately as much as can be now, after being in the spotlight so long already. I don't believe in abortion, but that's not what this is here - there are other serious events that have already precluded this baby's survival and any real chance of a normal life, with all the medical implications both mother and baby have had for the last two months. Let them both rest in peace - this has become a ghoulish attempt at forcing a family to go through something they clearly did not want, and which seems to have ignored their wishes by the hospital overall because of the law. Compassion for the family, the mother, and the unborn child is what's needed here now - and that means to let this end peacefully for all of them.

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AOLperson January 25 2014 at 11:39 AM

Having a mother that has a dead body and cannot enable the full development of the fetus will lead to huge medical repercussions for the fetus, if the fetus could even survive. Trying to keep her body "alive" is playing God. Unfortunately, that is how life works in nature. If a mother carrying a baby dies, so does the baby. I would put money down that anyone screaming about this is religious. Take religion out of the equation and allowing life to run its course actually makes sense.

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