Haltom City paramedic Erick Muñoz told a national television audience Wednesday night that he wanted to trade places with his pregnant wife as she lay brain-dead in a Fort Worth hospital for two months while hooked up to life support.
In an interview on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360°, Muñoz described his conflict with John Peter Smith Hospital over a state law .
Muñoz found his wife, Marlise, collapsed on their kitchen floor Nov. 26, and she was taken to JPS. Doctors said she was brain-dead, and Muñoz and his wife’s parents asked that she be removed from life support, saying that was her stated wish.
But JPS officials said a 1999 state law prevented them from complying with the family’s wish because Marlise Muñoz was pregnant.
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The family sued. And on Sunday, JPS complied with a judge’s order and removed life support.
Muñoz was joined in the interview by Marlise’s mother, Lynne Machado. They said Marlise Muñoz didn’t leave anything in writing declaring that she wouldn’t want to be kept on life support. But she did say that was her wish, they said.
Erick Muñoz said the family members were surprised to learn about the Texas law concerning her pregnancy. He said a JPS doctor told him that he had learned about the law just moments before they did.
Soon the issue was taken to court and into the national spotlight.
“I promised her. I told her, ‘I’ll honor your wishes,’ ” Muñoz said. “And, for the state of Texas to not let us do that was … hard. You know, you want to keep your word to your loved one.
“Many a night, I asked God to take me instead.”
As weeks dragged on, Machado said, the family sadly watched Marlise deteriorate.
“It made it very hard to look at this body that used to be our daughter and to know that nothing about her was there,” Machado said. “You could smell the deterioration. If I was close to her head, I’d smell death.”
Erick Muñoz told Cooper that his medical training kicked in when doctors showed him a scan of her brain.
“I can’t tell you exactly what I was looking at,” he said, “but I knew it was wrong.”
Cooper asked Muñoz whether JPS would bill him for the two months his wife was in the hospital.
He responded that he has received some bills in the mail but that “they have not said how that’s going to work.”
Cooper suggested that the family’s situation might spark national conversations about the importance of putting a person’s end-of-life wishes in writing. But, Cooper said, such a document in this case might not have made a difference because of the pregnancy clause in the state law.
Muñoz confirmed that he named the unborn child Nicole, his wife’s middle name.
After the interview aired, Cooper told the audience that Machado had told him that she was heartened that Marlise was in heaven to greet her baby daughter.