Marlise Munoz legally (and by most people’s standards) died in November after suffering a brain clot, but since she was 14 weeks pregnant, she has been kept on life support. Life support won’t help Munoz, who has been declared brain-dead; and at this point it won’t help the fetus — a fetus that is no longer viable and now is deformed. Munoz’s family has asked for her to be taken off life support, but in Texas the decision to keep a pregnant woman on life support isn’t up to a doctor, the family or anyone other than the courts.
This isn’t a choice that ought to be dictated by the government. Fortunately, the hospital came to its senses after being told it might be misinterpreting Texas’ law and shut off life support Sunday.
The Texas Advance Directives Act says “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.” The crux of the argument is whether to give life-sustaining support to someone who already has been declared legally dead. Officials at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth interpreted the law differently, essentially turning the woman’s body into an incubator to lengthen the life of the fetus until it could be viable outside its mother’s body — usually a minimum of six months. Two months later, the fetus still wasn’t viable.
Munoz, who along with her husband, Erick Munoz, was a paramedic and knew full well the ramifications of life support and end-of-life issues, so it is with great certainty the family knows the dead woman’s wishes. Texas law says life support can’t be removed — regardless of a pregnant woman’s wishes. Munoz’s husband believed so strongly in his wife’s wishes that he sued the hospital to have her taken off life support. On Friday, a judge ordered the removal of the life-sustaining equipment and the hospital did so later that morning — more than eight weeks after the woman died.
What a long and sad goodbye for this family. Life is important, but so too is acknowledging death when it occurs and letting the deceased truly rest in peace.
— Jeanny Sharp,