Texas hospital takes brain-dead, pregnant woman off life-support

Texas hospital accedes to judge's order, ending a tragic saga that spurred moral debate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 11:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 11:12pm


The legal and ethical saga over a brain-dead, pregnant, Texas woman has ended.

The hospital that had been keeping her on life support against her family's wishes acceded to a judge's ruling that it was misapplying the US state's law and disconnected her.

Marlise Munoz's body will be buried by her husband and parents. She had been carrying a 23-week-old fetus.

The case became a touchstone for national debates about the beginning and end of life, and whether a pregnant woman considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus.

Munoz's husband, Erick Munoz, sued the hospital because it would not remove life support as he said his wife would have wanted. Erick and Marlise Munoz worked as paramedics and were familiar with end-of-life issues.

But the hospital refused his request, citing Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient, regardless of her end-of-life wishes.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 on Friday sided with Erick Munoz, saying in his order: "Mrs Munoz is dead."

She was disconnected from life support and died at about 11.30am on Sunday.

"May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey," family lawyers said in a statement.

Erick Munoz had told the judge of visiting his wife in the hospital, saying her eyes were glassy and the smell of her perfume had given way to a smell he knew to be of a dead body.

"There is an infant, and a dead person serving as a dysfunctional incubator," lawyer Heather King said.

Marlise Munoz's parents, Ernest and Lynne Machado, agreed with Erick Munoz and sat next to him at Friday's hearing.

But Larry Thompson, a lawyer arguing on behalf of the hospital, said the hospital was trying to protect the rights of the fetus as it believed Texas law instructed it to do. He cited a section 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."

"There is a life involved, and the life is the unborn child," Thompson told the judge.

Legal experts said the hospital was misreading the act and that the law did not have an absolute command to keep someone like Munoz on life support.