Judge orders Hospital to declare pregnant woman dead and withdraw life support by Monday
By Dave Andrusko
Erick Muñoz walked into a packed Tarrant County courtroom for Friday’s hearing. (Tom Fox/Staff Photographer)
As National Right to Life News Today was about to be posted, the Dallas Morning News reported that Texas state District Judge R.H. Wallace “has sided with the family of Marlise Muñoz and ordered JPS [John Peter Smith] Hospital to declare her dead and withdraw life support by 5 p.m. Monday.”
Mrs. Muñoz, who is approximately 22 weeks pregnant, was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed on her kitchen floor in November. Her husband, Erick Munoz, tried to resuscitate his wife and called for an ambulance. Doctors restarted Mrs. Muñoz’s heart in the emergency room. She has been on life support since then.
The family has insisted that although she committed nothing to paper, Mrs. Muñoz had made clear that she never wish to be kept on life support.
Erick Muñoz had contended doctors told him that his wife “had lost all activity in her brain stem” and an accompanying chart stated that she was “brain dead.” Last week the family brought a lawsuit in Tarrant County civil court against JPS Health Network.
They requested the court to issue an order requiring John Peter Smith Hospital “to immediately cease conducting any further medical procedures and to remove Marlise from any respirators, ventilators or other ‘life support,’” the Star-Telegram newspaper reported.
The hospital has said consistently that it could not take Mrs. Muñoz, who is the mother of 15-month-old Mateo, off of life support, citing a provision of the Texas Advance Directives Act that reads “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.”
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But there were two major developments since last we reported on the case. In court documents released late Thursday, the hospital acknowledged for the first time that Marlise Muñoz, “met the clinical criteria for brain death on Nov. 28, 2013.”
However while John Peter Smith Hospital agreed Mrs. Muñoz met the clinical criteria for brain death, “the hospital says she did not leave a written directive and withdrawing life support ‘would cause the death of the unborn child,’” the Dallas Morning News reported earlier today.
The second development was part of a post sent out mid-afternoon by the Morning News’ Diane Jennings, updating her earlier story:
Both sides also agree that the fetus is not viable, and the judge noted that the mother could elect to have an abortion if she were able to make such a decision.
“As I understand the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that if this fetus were not viable [and] Ms. Muñoz were alive … she could abort the child.”
Wallace has ordered a brief recess, after which he could make a ruling in the case.
Of course just how badly the child may—or may not—have been injured is unknown. CNN closed one of its stories this afternoon with this:
For all the passions on both sides of the debate, others saw plenty of gray area — the kind of thing that might not be resolved until the baby is born and, perhaps, develops outside the womb.
“A lot depends, first of all, on how long the patient here was deprived of oxygen, or otherwise compromised,” said Dr. Jeffrey Ecker of Massachusetts General Hospital, who works on complicated pregnancies and prenatal diagnosis
“We can certainly use tools like ultrasound and MRI to sometimes see where there has been injury as a result of low blood pressure or low oxygen. But just seeing that things look well isn’t the same as saying that things will be well,” Ecker said.