A judge ordered a Texas hospital to remove life support for a pregnant, brain-dead woman whose family said that she would not want to be kept in that condition.
The judge in the US state issued the ruling in the case of Marlise Munoz, who was being kept alive in a hospital in Fort Worth against her family's wishes. The judge gave the hospital until 5pm tomorrow to remove life support.
The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. It has also caught the attention of both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Munoz's fetus deserves a chance to be born.
Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious on November 26, possibly due to a blood clot.
Erick Munoz says he and his wife are paramedics who were clear about not wanting life support in this type of situation. His attorney argued that keeping the woman alive would set a dangerous precedent for similar cases.
"By no means should [the hospital] be entitled to continue cutting into [Munoz's] deceased body in front of her husband and family under the guise of 'life sustaining' treatment," according to court papers they filed.
Hospital officials said they were bound by a state law prohibiting withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant patient. Several experts have said the hospital is misapplying the law.
Attorneys for Erick Munoz have said the wife's parents agreed with his request to turn off the ventilator.
The lawyers have also said they have provided medical records to show that the fetus suffered from oxygen deprivation and appears to have deformed lower extremities.
Officials at John Peter Smith hospital in Fort Worth last week said: "The courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction and resolution in this matter."
Little is known about fetal survival when mothers suffer brain death during pregnancy. German doctors who searched for such cases found 30 instances of survival over nearly 30 years, according to a 2010 article in the journal BMC Medicine.
Additional reporting by Reuters