A federal judge on Friday granted the family of Marlise Muñoz, a Fort Worth woman who is pregnant and brain-dead, permission to remove her from life supp0rt.
Tarrant County District Judge R.H. Wallace said that the Texas law requiring medical personnel to maintain life-sustaining medical care for pregnant patients does not apply if the patient is brain-dead, as Muñoz is. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth has until Monday at 5 p.m. to decide whether to appeal the judge’s ruling.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office called the case "tragic," and said the governor's prayers are with the family.
"This was a matter for the court," his spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said.
But Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, said the judges decision "fails to recognize the interests of the unborn child, who is a separate patient."
At 14 weeks pregnant in November, Muñoz, 33, suffered what doctors believe was a pulmonary embolism. She was nearly dead when her husband, paramedic Erick Muñoz, found her collapsed in their home. Although Erick Muñoz and Marlise Muñoz's family wanted to honor her desire not to be placed on life support, more than a month later, doctors are still keeping her alive.
Although the hospital could detect a fetal heartbeat, court documents acknowledged that the fetus was not viable. Attorneys for the Muñoz family said the fetus, now 22 weeks along, was “distinctly abnormal,” and has water on the brain.
Texas’ advance directives form, as designed by state law, includes the line, “I understand that under Texas law this directive has no effect if I have been diagnosed as pregnant.” A law enacted in 1989 and amended in 1999 further clarifies that: “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.”
Wallace’s ruling confirmed speculation by legal experts that treatment is not considered “life sustaining” if the patient is brain-dead. Although hospitals and doctors use different methods to determine whether a patient is brain-dead, the state has a legal definition: "In the announced opinion of a physician, according to ordinary standards of medical practice, there is irreversible cessation of all spontaneous brain function. Death occurs when the relevant functions cease.”
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/24/judge-pregnant-woman-may-be-taken-life-support/.