Fort Worth

January 17, 2014

Munoz case against JPS is moved to 96th District Court

State District Judge R.H. Wallace assigned the suit involving a brain-dead pregnant woman on life support to his own court.

State District Judge R.H. Wallace has assigned to his court the lawsuit against John Peter Smith Hospital by the family of a pregnant Haltom City woman who is being kept on life support against the family’s wishes.

The case was originally assigned to state District Judge Melody Wilkinson, who recused herself Thursday without explanation.

The reassignment normally would have been made by Judge Jeff Walker, the administrative judge for this region. He is out of town, and Wallace is the acting administrative judge.

Wallace transferred the case Friday to his 96th District Court. He did not respond to phone messages.

Marlise Muñoz, 33, has been hospitalized for 7 1/2 weeks. Doctors told her family that they believe she had a pulmonary embolism. She was about 14 weeks pregnant. After doctors told the family that she was considered brain-dead, the family asked that life support be removed, saying she had clearly stated that was her wish.

Her husband, Erick Muñoz, sued JPS on Tuesday, asking that the hospital stop further medical procedures and remove his wife from respirators, ventilators or other “life support” and release her body.

JPS officials have refused, citing a Texas law that requires pregnant women to be kept on life support until the fetus is viable, usually at 24 to 26 weeks.

Muñoz’s lawsuit says the hospital is misconstruing the law. JPS doctors would not be removing life-sustaining treatment, the suit says. “Marlise cannot possibly be a ‘pregnant patient’ — Marlise is dead,” the lawsuit states.

The suit also argues that the section of the law that says “a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment … from a pregnant patient” is unconstitutional because it violates Marlise Muñoz’s 14th Amendment right to privacy with regard to making decisions about her own body and equal protection under the law.

On Friday, the Tarrant County Hospital District, which operates JPS, filed a one-sentence response to the lawsuit, saying it “generally denies” all its arguments.

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