(Photo: Screen grab/WFAA-TV)
A judge on Friday ordered a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, to remove life support from a pregnant, brain-dead woman by Monday evening. While pro-life groups are criticizing the ruling, the family's lawyers have alleged the woman's body was being used as an experiment.
District Judge R.H. Wallace Jr. gave John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth until 5 p.m. CST Monday to remove Marlise Munoz from life support, according to The Associated Press.
Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband, Erick Munoz, found her unconscious on the kitchen floor Nov. 26.
The woman and her husband are paramedics. Erick Munoz said he and his wife had discussed and agreed on not being kept alive through life support. However, the hospital cited a Texas law on pregnant patients to argue it was mandated to protect the life of the unborn child. Texas' Health and Safety Code Section 166.049 states that "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient," even with a signed DNR form, which Munoz never signed.
"Marlise Munoz is dead, and she gave clear instructions to her husband and family – Marlise was not to remain on any type of artificial 'life sustaining treatment,' ventilators or the like. There is no reason JPS should be allowed to continue treatment on Marlise Munoz's dead body, and this court should order JPS to immediately discontinue such," the lawsuit said.
According to a WFAA-TV report, at 18 weeks gestation, medical tests showed that the baby has a normal heart beat. The next set of scheduled tests for the baby was to be at 24 weeks. On Monday, the baby will be entering 23 weeks gestation.
Jill Labbe, vice president for community affairs at JPS hospital, told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that they cannot share information about the health of the baby, "because Mr. Munoz has not signed the release necessary for [the hospital] to speak about his wife's case."
Munoz had expressed concern that their preborn baby might have 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 preborn baby when this occurred.
While CNN quoted a family's lawyer, Jessica Janicek, as saying that the hospital was "utilizing [the] body as a science experiment," the case has since raised questions about the nature of death and the rights of unborn children.
The ruling was criticized by the pro-life Texas Alliance for Life, which said in a statement, "The decision fails to recognize the interests of the unborn child, who is a separate patient. We believe the intent of the legislature, as expressed in numerous places in Texas law, is to protect the lives of unborn children to the greatest extent possible."
Rebecca Lunstroth, assistant director of the Houston-based McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, said being brain-dead is not different from other types of death. "When someone's brain-dead, they're dead. This is a dead woman that technology is keeping for a finite amount of time. That's not the proper use of technology, in my opinion ... it shouldn't be the hospital's decision," she said before the ruling, according to The Guardian.
"When I bend down to kiss her forehead, her usual scent is gone, replaced instead with what I can only describe as the smell of death," Erick Munoz said in an affidavit. "As a paramedic, I am very familiar with this smell, and I now recognize it when I kiss my wife. In addition, Marlise's hands no longer naturally grip mine for an embrace. Her limbs have become so stiff and rigid due to her deteriorating condition that now, when I move her hands, her bones crack, and her legs are nothing more than dead weight."
The hospital has the option to appeal, or remove life support as per the district court's order.