The husband of a brain-dead pregnant woman who is being kept on life support against his wishes is suing the Fort Worth, Texas, hospital where she has been since November.
Marlise Munoz, who collapsed from a blood clot in her lungs last year and was swiftly admitted to the hospital, was pronounced brain-dead, but because of a Texas law that prohibits doctors from withholding “life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant woman, the hospital has refused to remove her from a ventilator. The 33-year-old mother, who has a young son, was 14 weeks pregnant with her second child when she was stricken. The hospital won’t release Munoz from life support until the baby is either born or a miscarriage occurs, according to ABC News. The condition of the fetus is unclear.
Munoz’s story has sparked a firestorm of legal and ethical wrangling. The hospital, for one, has said it cannot legally let Munoz’s body go while a fetus, now more than 20 weeks along, is still inside her. But experts demur, saying the hospital has misinterpreted the law because Munoz is brain-dead with no chance of recovery.
“If they’ve declared a person dead, the family then has the right to take the body and bury it,” Bill Winslade, a law professor at the University of Houston, told The Dallas Morning News.
Now, Marlise Munoz’s husband, Erick Munoz, is taking the issue to court. Throughout the whole ordeal, Erick Munoz has maintained that his wife had told him if she was ever in such a condition, to let her die. Both Erick and Marlise Munoz were paramedics and had witnessed life and death situations up close.
"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, filed in Tarrant County District Court on Tuesday, read, according to the Associated Press. "There is no reason [John Peter Smith Hospital] should be allowed to continue treatment on Marlise Munoz's dead body, and this court should order [John Peter Smith Hospital] to immediately discontinue such."
Erick Munoz hopes the court will order the hospital to withdraw life support from his wife. The family of Marlise Munoz reportedly supports the decision to remove their daughter from a ventilator.
Cases of women being kept on life support to await the fate of a fetus are few, but not unheard of. According to the Los Angeles Times, investigators were able to find 19 such cases reported between 1982 and 2010.
“Twelve of those fetuses were delivered by caesarean section and survived for some period of time after birth,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “One of the babies, born prematurely after just 25 weeks of gestation, died of an infection at the age of 30 days. Six of the others were developing normally as of the time that case reports about them were written (at ages ranging from 3 to 24 months), though a few of them had suffered from infant respiratory distress syndrome. The condition of the other five babies was unknown.”