The family of Marlise Munoz, who is being kept on life support even though she is brain dead, is outraged that her body is being used as a “host for a fetus.” The hospital has said it is legally bound to keep Munoz on a ventilator because shortly after the patient arrived at the hospital last year following a blood clot in her lungs, doctors discovered she was 14 weeks pregnant.
According to Dallas News, Munoz, who is from Fort Worth, Texas, was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital on Nov. 26 after her husband, Erick Munoz, discovered her collapsed and unconscious on their living room floor. Doctors later declared Marlise Munoz brain dead, meaning there was no neurological activity in her brain. Erick, a firefighter and a paramedic, told the hospital that his wife’s wishes were to never be placed on life-support machines.
“She did not want to be on life support,” her mother, Lynne Machado, told CBS News. “We knew what her wishes were as well as her husband’s, so we were all on the same page.”
But when the family was prepared to say their final goodbyes and to pull the plug, the hospital said they couldn’t comply with the family’s wishes. According to multiple reports, the hospital said that because Marlise Munoz was pregnant, Texas law dictated that the hospital could not remove her from a ventilator, regardless of the condition of the fetus.
“It’s not a matter of pro-choice and pro-life,” Machado told the New York Times. “It’s about a matter of our daughter’s wishes not being honored by the state of Texas.”
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Texas is one of two dozen states that prohibit doctors from cutting off life support to patients who are pregnant. The law in Texas was first passed in 1989 and amended in 1999.
“The measures were largely adopted in the 1980s, with the spread of laws authorizing patients to make advance directives about end-of-life care like living wills and health care proxies,” Katharine Taylor, a lawyer and bioethicist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told the Utah People’s Post.
Such laws are sharply contested by critics who say hospitals often misinterpret them. The Center for Women Policy Sutdies has even referred to them as a way for “terminally ill women” to be forced to “exist as human incubators.”
A crucial point of contention is whether these laws apply to patients who are brain dead, as opposed to patients who are in a coma or a vegetative state.
Marlise Munoz’s family has been outraged by the law, which is preventing their daughter’s wishes from being answered.
“All she is, is a host for a fetus,” Marlise Munoz’s father, Ernest Machado, told the New York Times. “I get angry with the state. What business did they have delving into these areas? Why are they practicing medicine up in Austin?”
The hospital has been relatively silent about the case, partly because they say they’re not at liberty to discuss it. But, a J.R. Labbe, a spokesperson for John Peter Smith Hospital, did say this:
“We can’t withdraw treatment from a pregnant person as the law states. Every day, we have patients and families who must make difficult decisions. Our position remains the same. We follow the law.”
Third party legal analysts recognize the complexity of the situation. Where does law end and the ethics of end-of-life care step in? When does life begin?
“Usually, unless someone is arguing, the hospital will follow [personal or family wishes],” CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford explained on CBS's “This Morning Monday.” “Here it’s complicated because you have this statute in Texas, one of the states that says, ‘We are going to recognize that another life is involved with this.'”