Brain-dead pregnant woman taken off support

2014-01-27 11:06
Erick Munoz stands with a photograph of himself with wife Marlise and their son Mateo. (Ron Ennis, AP)

Erick Munoz stands with a photograph of himself with wife Marlise and their son Mateo. (Ron Ennis, AP)

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Fort Worth - A very public battle over the fate of a brain-dead, pregnant Texas woman and her foetus has ended quietly and privately, as she has been taken off life support and her family prepares for her burial.

John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth complied on Sunday with a judge's order to pull any life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Munoz, who was declared brain-dead in November, but kept on machines for the sake of her foetus, now at 23 weeks' gestation.

Munoz was removed from the machines shortly afterward and allowed to die. The foetus, which was at 23 weeks' gestation, was not delivered.

The hospital's decision brought an apparent end to a case that inspired debates about abortion and end-of-life decisions, as well as whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a foetus, per Texas law. Anti-abortion activists attended Friday's court hearing and spoke out in favour of trying to deliver the foetus.

Texas law

Whether the Munoz case leads Texas to change the law remains unclear. In recent years, the Legislature has enacted several new anti-abortion restrictions, including setting the legal guideline for when a foetus can feel pain, which is at 20 weeks. Marlise Munoz's foetus passed about three weeks ago.

Munoz's husband, Erick Munoz, sued the hospital because it would not remove life support as he said his wife would have wanted in such a situation. The couple, both paramedics, were familiar with end-of-life issues, and Erick said his wife had told him she would not want to be kept alive under such circumstances.

But the hospital refused his request, citing Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient, regardless of her end-of-life wishes.

Judge R H Wallace sided on Friday with Erick Munoz, saying in his order: "Mrs Munoz is dead."

Erick Munoz found his wife unconscious in their home on 26 Nov, possibly due to a blood clot. Doctors soon determined that she was brain-dead, which meant that she was both medically and legally dead by law, but kept her on machines to keep her organs functioning for the sake of the foetus.

Shortly after the hospital announced its decision not to fight the judge's order, his attorneys announced that she had been disconnected from life support at about 11:30 on Sunday.

Legal experts told the AP that the hospital was misreading the Texas Advance Directives Act and that the law isn't an absolute command to keep a pregnant woman on life support.

- AP
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