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Grieving Husband Files Lawsuit Against Texas Hospital for Keeping Wife's Body on Life Support in Effort to Save Pre-Born Baby

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  • Marlise Munoz
    (Photo: Facebook)
    Marlise and Erick Munoz.
By Melissa Barnhart, CP Reporter
January 15, 2014|2:53 pm

John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, announced late Tuesday that Erick Munoz, the Texas husband whose pregnant wife is being kept on life support as their baby continues to grow and develop, is suing to remove life-sustaining measures.

In the lawsuit filed in the 17th District Court in Tarrant County, Munoz is asking for a judge to rule that JPS hospital must abide by Marlise Munoz's wishes by taking her off the ventilator and any other life-sustaining devices that are keeping her body going to support the life of their pre-born baby, which is now at 21 weeks gestation.

The lawsuit also asks that the hospital be stopped from performing any surgeries on Marlise's body, referring to the cesarean section that would be done to deliver her baby. The lawsuit claims that because JPS refuses to remove her from life-sustaining devices, medical staff is thus "mutilating, disturbing and damaging Marlise's deceased body." The suit also cites that JPS is violating Marlise's 14th Amendment rights to privacy and equal protection.

The hospital asserts that if it denies life-sustaining treatments, it would be in direct violation of Texas' Health and Safety Code Section 166.049 that states: "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient."

Marlise never documented her desire to be removed from life support by signing an official Do Not Resuscitate form (DNR). But even if she had, because she's pregnant, it's believed, according to JPS, that any hospital would be required by law to keep her body functioning as long as the pre-born baby is alive and developing.

In a statement shared with The Christian Post, the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office noted that it is serving as legal counsel for JPS, as it has "in a number of civil areas, including informed consent and related issues pursuant to state statutes."

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"Accordingly, we will represent JPS in this litigation. Attorneys became aware of the lawsuit just before noon Tuesday and will file a response in due course. To our knowledge, no hearing has been set at this time," read the statement from the Tarrant County DA's office.

This complex medical nightmare began for Munoz and his in-laws, Ernest and Lynne Machado, at 2 a.m. Nov. 26 when he found his newly-wed wife, Marlise, 33, lying unconscious on the kitchen floor. At that time, she was 14 weeks pregnant with their second child.

Munoz told the Star-Telegram that his wife had gotten out of bed that night to check on their 14-month-old son, Mateo, who was crying. But when he later heard Mateo crying again, he got up to check on both of them, thinking that his wife had fallen back off to sleep in their son's bedroom.

When he found his wife's body, Munoz said he administered CPR and then called 911. According to reports, Munoz said his wife's heart had stopped several times and she was resuscitated each time.

Both trained paramedics, Munoz said he and his wife had discussed and agreed on not being kept alive through life support.

"We both knew that we didn't want to be on life support. We knew what her wishes were," he told WFAA-TV, reiterating his point that Marlise wouldn't want to be kept alive by a machine if she was ever diagnosed as being brain dead.

Similarly, Munoz also expressed concern that their pre-born baby might have also been injured when his wife collapsed on the floor, due to the blood clot that doctors believe might have traveled to his wife's lungs, leading to a pulmonary embolism. Munoz feels that oxygen and blood flow might have been cut from their pre-born baby when this occurred.

"They don't know how long the baby was without nutrients and oxygen," he said. "But I'm aware what challenges I might face ahead."

According to a WFAA report, at 18 weeks gestation, medical tests showed that the baby has a normal heart beat.

Jill Labbe, vice president for community affairs at JPS, told The Christian Post last Thursday that in all cases, "JPS will follow the law as it applies to healthcare in the state of Texas."

She added, "Every day, we have patients and families who must make difficult decisions. Our position remains the same; we follow the law. … JPS remains focused on providing compassionate care to all patients while also following the law as it applies to healthcare in the state of Texas."

Munoz, who according to reports believes that his wife is not exhibiting any brain activity, never anticipated that he wouldn't be able to withdraw life support from his wife.

"I have yet to meet anyone who knew about this law, not a single doctor," Munoz said. "We want people to know because it has the potential of affecting others. People should have the right to make these decisions because they know the person better than some legislator down in Austin."

 

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