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Pregnant woman ordered off life-support

A Texas judge declared Marlise Munoz, the pregnant woman who has been on life support since November, dead and ordered her removal from life support by Monday.
Erick Muñoz, husband of Marlise Muñoz walks into the Tarrant County court house with attorneys in Fort Worth, Texas, USA, Jan. 24, 2014.
Erick Muñoz, husband of Marlise Muñoz walks into the Tarrant County court house with attorneys in Fort Worth, Texas, USA, Jan. 24, 2014.

The hospital caring after a brain-dead pregnant woman must pronounce her dead and remove her from life support by 5 p.m. CST on Monday, a Texas judge ruled.

Marlise Muñoz was admitted to John Peter Smith hospital in November after suffering what doctors believe to be a blood clot in her lungs. At the time of her fall, Muñoz was 14 weeks pregnant. Doctors at JPS have been keeping her on life support citing a provision of state law that says “a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment…from a pregnant patient.”

The hospital responded to the ruling by leaving the door open for a possible appeal, saying in a statement that it “appreciates the potential impact of the consequences of the order on all parties involved and will be consulting with the Tarrant County District Attorney's office."

The woman’s husband, Erick Muñoz, a paramedic, filed a lawsuit against the hospital last week arguing that his wife is legally dead and therefore the law cannot be applied. Erick has said in interviews that his wife is brain dead— a detail the hospital had previously refused to confirm, citing privacy laws. The hospital acknowledged Friday that Marlise “has met the clinical criteria for brain death since Nov. 28.” Erick and Marlise’s parents say she communicated her wishes not to be kept on life support to them.

The hospital also acknowledged during Friday’s hearing that the fetus gestating in Marlise’s body “is not viable,” echoing a statement released by attorneys for the family. Marlise is now 22 weeks pregnant, according to court documents. That’s two weeks shy of the 24-week mark when a fetus is generally considered viable outside the womb.

The statement released by family attorneys this week detailed the damage the fetus suffered as a result of Marlise’s injuries, including swelling of the brain and possibly heart problems.    

“Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent the gender cannot be determined,” the statement read.

“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.” 

More than two dozen states have laws similar to Texas’s that prohibit medical providers from taking pregnant patients off life support. The case has reignited a fierce ethical debate across the country about end of life care and abortion.