A Family in Crisis

Husband of brain-dead pregnant woman sues Fort Worth hospital to remove wife from life support

Husband of brain-dead pregnant woman sues Fort Worth hospital

Marlise Munoz
Marlise Munoz has been in the ICU at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth since November 26, 2013. Marlise Munoz/Facebook
Marlise Munoz
Erick and Marlise Munoz with their son, Mateo. Marlise Munoz/Facebook
Erick Munoz
Erick and Marlise Munoz worked as paramedics in Crowley, Texas. Marlise Munoz/Facebook
Marlise Munoz
Marlise Munoz
Erick Munoz

UPDATE: Attorneys for Erick Munoz have released a statement about the status of the fetus Marlise Munoz is carrying. This story has been changed to reflect this new information.

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Erick Munoz has filed a lawsuit against John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth to compel doctors to remove life support from his brain-dead, pregnant wife. Marlise Munoz was rushed to the hospital on November 26 when she was 14 weeks pregnant.

Marlise has not shown any brain activity since being admitted, and it is believed she suffered a pulmonary embolism. Family members — including her husband — have publicly said they do not want to keep her on life support.

 "In fact, Marlise cannot possibly be a 'pregnant patient' — Marlise is dead," the lawsuit reads.

Marlise is now 21 weeks pregnant. The couple already has a 1-year-old son, Mateo.

In the Tarrant County lawsuit filed January 14, Erick Munoz references the fact that because he and his wife worked as paramedics, they had ample opportunities to ponder life and death issues. Erick says Marlise's clear, expressed desire was to not be resuscitated should she ever become brain dead.

Although the hospital has not released specific information on Marlise's condition due to privacy laws, Erick says in the filing that he saw the words "brain dead" on his wife's medical chart.

"Despite Marlise's brain death, [John Peter Smith Hospital] has maintained Marlise on a respirator and has forced on her deceased body other 'life sustaining' treatments," the filing reads.

The hospital has repeatedly cited a section of the Texas Advance Directives Act as a legal mandate that Marlise must be kept alive until the baby can be delivered. The section reads, "A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient."

Quoting a separate section of the Texas Health and Safety Code, the filing argues that because Marlise has no brain function, she is legally dead under Texas law and not subject to the subchapter about pregnancy.

"In fact, Marlise cannot possibly be a 'pregnant patient' — Marlise is dead," reads the filing, which also asserts that the hospital is "mutilating, disturbing and damaging Marlise's deceased body, and further refusing to release it to Erick for proper preservation and burial."

In a related filing, Erick Munoz also argues that the hospital is violating Marlise's 14th Amendment rights to privacy.

"Marlise has a fundamental right to make medical decisions regarding her own body, even if those decisions affect some point of the gestation period," the second filing reads. "To take those rights away from Marlise, and force her to be subject to various medical procedures simply because she is pregnant, is a gross violation of her constitutional rights."

The case was originally before Judge Melody Wilkinson, but she recused herself two days after the lawsuit was filed, citing "time sensitive issues that require immediate attention." On January 17, the case was transferred to Judge R.H. Wallace.

John Peter Smith Hospital has denied all the allegations in Erick Munoz's lawsuit, and a hearing on the motion to remove Marlise from life support will be held Friday, January 24.

In a January 22 statement, attorneys Heather King and Jessica Janicek said they had obtained medical records regarding the condition of the fetus Marlise is carrying. The prognosis is grim and shows a number of defects:

The Munoz and Machado families feel this information is highly private and extremely sensitive, and although we believe it has no legal relevance to the pending litigation, we believe just as strongly that there be absolutely no misconception about the condition of the fetus or the status of Marlise Munoz's deceased body. According to the medical records we have been provided, the fetus is distinctly abnormal. Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined. The fetus suffers from hydrocephalus. It also appears that there are further abnormalities, including a possible heart problem, that cannot be specifically determined due to the immobile nature of Mrs. Munoz's deceased body.