The husband of a pregnant, brain-dead woman has sued the hospital keeping her on life support, saying doctors are doing so against her and her family's wishes.
Erick Munoz's wife, Marlise, 33, suffered a pulmonary embolism the week after Thanksgiving and has been kept on life support ever since in John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas.
"Although the hospital has not publicly released an official diagnosis of Marlise's condition, Erick has been informed by JPS, and from that information believes that Marlise is brain dead," says the suit.
Erick and Marlise's parents have been asking doctors to let her die, pointing to a Texas law that says her brain-dead condition fits the definition of death under Texas law. But doctors insist they can't take her off life support, pointing to another state law that says because the 14-week-old fetus still has a heartbeat, the mother must be kept alive.
It remains unclear whether the fetus also suffered "the same brain-destroying oxygen deprivation that ended Munoz's life and whether additional, irreversible damage was inflicted by the electric shocks and drugs administered to revive Munoz's body".
John Peter Smith Hospital spokeswoman J. R. Labbe has said the hospital was merely "following the law of the state of Texas" and that "this is not a difficult decision for us".
But several medical experts said they believed John Peter Smith Hospital was misinterpreting the law.
"This patient is neither terminally nor irreversibly ill," said Dr Robert Fine, clinical director of the office of clinical ethics and palliative care for Baylor Health Care System. "Under Texas law, this patient is legally dead."
Tom Mayo, a Southern Methodist University law professor, said he did not believe the law applied in this case.
The suit says: "JPS has informed Erick and his family that Marlise Munoz is brain dead, and as such, Erick asserts that she is legally dead under Texas law. Despite the fact that Marlise is dead, JPS refuses to remove Marlise from the 'life sustaining' treatment, thus mutilating, disturbing and damaging Marlise's deceased body, and further refusing to release it to Erick for proper preservation and burial.
"Erick vehemently opposes any further alleged 'life sustaining' measures, surgery or treatment …."
Erick Munoz says that at 2am on November 26 he awoke to find Marlise unconscious on their kitchen floor. Erick, who, like Marlise, is a paramedic, began performing CPR on his wife and dialled 911. She was then rushed to JPS, where doctors told Erick his wife had "lost all activity in her brain stem, and was for all purposes brain dead", says the suit.
The health of the fetus is unknown.
A 2010 article in the journal BMC Medicine found 30 cases of brain-dead pregnant women over about 30 years. Of 19 reported results, the journal found 12 in which a viable child was born. It had post-birth data for two years on only six of them, all of whom developed normally, according to the journal.
Additional reporting by Associated Press