Lieutenant governor candidates say Muñoz court ruling was wrong

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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A district judge in Tarrant County was wrong to let a pregnant brain-dead woman be removed from life support, and the Legislature needs to address the life-and-death dilemma when it returns next year, the four Republicans hoping to be the state’s lieutenant governor next year agreed Monday night.

The situation of Marlise Muñoz, who was kept on life support in an attempt to let her fetus develop enough to be delivered, drew much focus during the first televised debate in the race for lieutenant governor.

All four candidates — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples — said the state district judge shouldn’t have let Muñoz’s husband, Erick, remove his wife from life support.

“This case was decided wrong,” Dewhurst said. “I’m a strong believer of the sanctity of life. … This baby could have been born. If I had been in that judge’s shoes, I would have ruled differently.”

The case has drawn national attention and sparked a national debate over the beginning and end of life. It is likely to be an issue in many Texas elections this year.

Erick Muñoz found his pregnant wife on the floor of their Haltom City home in November. Marlise Muñoz, a 33-year-old paramedic, was declared brain-dead in November after suffering a fatal embolism. But John Peter Smith Hospital officials kept her on life support against her and her family’s wishes, saying they were following a Texas law that says life support may not be withdrawn from a pregnant woman.

Erick Muñoz maintained that his wife wouldn’t want to be kept alive in such a way and sued the hospital because it wouldn’t remove life support even after medical officials found that the fetus was “distinctly abnormal.”

A state district judge ruled last week that Marlise Muñoz could be removed from life support, and she was pronounced dead Sunday shortly after the support was withdrawn. The 23-week-old fetus she was carrying, which officials said couldn’t be born alive, likely was a girl, according to media reports Monday.

“What the Muñoz family had to face and endure was unthinkable,” Staples said. “This was a situation where there was life.

“It’s a responsibility of us as a society … to protect life,” he said. “I do believe the court erred in this situation.”

All four said lawmakers should try to find the best answer to the question of whether a pregnant woman who is considered medically dead should be kept alive for a fetus.

“It’s a tragic intersection, the right-to-life concerns and when life ends,” Patterson said. “We should always err on the side of life.

“I think we have to change the law,” he said. “We have conflicting statutes.”

Patrick said he will lead the charge to protect life.

“Life is so precious,” he said. “There is nothing more precious than the life of a baby in the womb. … We are born in the image of God. Whenever we have the opportunity to preserve life, we should.

“I can’t think of anything more tragic than the situation we had,” he said. “We need to be thoughtful. We need to lead. We must protect life.”

The Republican battle for lieutenant governor has become one of the hottest races on the March 4 primary ballot as Dewhurst tries to fend off three GOP challengers — who all backed him in his failed bid for the U.S. Senate last year — to hold on to his job.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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