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Fetus 'distinctly abnormal' for Texas woman on life-support

Erick Munoz, the husband of Marlise Machado Munoz, poses for a photo at his home on Jan. 3, 2014.
Erick Munoz, the husband of Marlise Machado Munoz, poses for a photo at his home on Jan. 3, 2014.

The fetus of a brain-dead Texas woman who’s been kept on life support despite her family’s wishes is “distinctly abnormal,” attorneys for the family said Wednesday. The attorneys said they issued the statement to clear up any “misconceptions about the condition of the fetus.”

Doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth kept the woman, Marlise Muñoz, attached to a ventilator since she sustained injuries while falling in her home in November. At the time, Muñoz was 14 weeks pregnant. The fetus is now at the 22-week mark – just shy of the 24-week mark when it is generally considered viable.

Her husband Erick Muñoz sued the hospital last week to take Marlise off life support, arguing that she is legally dead under Texas law, and it is against her wishes. The hospital is citing a provision of state law that says “a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment… from a pregnant patient.”

In interviews, Erick Muñoz, a former paramedic, expressed concern that the fetus could not develop normally and that the hospital could not determine how long it had been deprived of oxygen and nutrients. The hospital has said it can detect a fetal heartbeat.

“Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent the gender cannot be determined,” Muñoz’s attorneys said in a statement, adding that the fetus is affected with hydrocephalus, the swelling of the brain, and possibly heart problems.

“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 statement pushed back against the hospital’s interpretation of Texas law, saying if the law were applied in the way the hospital is treating Muñoz, “it would be incumbent upon all health care providers to immediately conduct pregnancy tests on any woman of child bearing age who becomes deceased, and upon determining the deceased body was pregnant, hooking the body  up to machines in an attempt to continue gestation. Surely, such a result was never intended nor should it be inferred.”