Courtroom Drama

Fort Worth judge rules in controversial case of brain-dead pregnant woman

Judge rules in controversial case of brain-dead pregnant woman

A Tarrant County judge has ordered John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth to remove a brain-dead pregnant woman from life support at the request of her husband.

According to the Associated Press, Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. gave the hospital until 5 pm on Monday January 27 to remove life support for Marlise Munoz, who has been in the hospital since November 26.

Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when she was rushed to the hospital by her husband Erick Munoz who found her unconscious. She's been in intensive care since. He filed a lawsuit against the hospital on January 14 to compel doctors to remove life support.

Her exceedingly rare situation has shined a spotlight on a little-known portion of Texas law and provoked an international debate.

In the lawsuit, 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. The couple also has a 1-year-old son, Mateo.

The hospital 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."

Erick Munoz and his attorneys Heather King and Jessica Janicek argued that Marlise is legally dead 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."

On January 22, King and Janicek released a statement saying they had obtained medical records regarding the condition of the fetus Marlise is carrying. The prognosis was grim and showed a number of major defects including a brain abnormality called hydrocephalus.

The Associated Press reported that the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, which is representing the hospital in the lawsuit, would issue a statement later Friday in response to the ruling.

Marlise Munoz
Erick and Marlise Munoz with their son, Mateo. Marlise Munoz/Facebook
Marlise Munoz
Marlise Munoz entered the ICU at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth on November 26, 2013. Marlise Munoz/Facebook