Marlise Muñoz and the politics of life and death in Tarrant County, Texas

01/09/2014 9:19 PM

01/10/2014 8:18 AM

( NOTE: John Peter Smith Hospital will be represented by the Tarrant County District Attorney in event of a lawsuit, not by outside legal counsel Neal Adams, a spokeswoman said Friday. This column has been updated.)

Firefighter Erick Muñoz just wants to take his dying wife off life support, but he lives in the wrong county and state.

So Marlise Muñoz is now in limbo, supported solely for the sake of her unborn child in a county and state where everything about life, death and abortion is political.

Had Muñoz been in a different city or state when she collapsed with no brain function Nov. 26, she might have been allowed to die, perhaps after an abortion to end what was then a 14-week pregnancy.

But at county-operated John Peter Smith Hospital in conservative Tarrant County, Texas, abortions were banned in 1988.

Muñoz’s county commissioners, their appointed hospital leaders, her state representative and state senator all helped weave laws and rules that now protect her unborn child over the family’s wish to let go of their beloved daughter, wife and mother.

“My deepest sympathy goes out to the family enduring this tragedy,” said state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, who represents Muñoz in Austin.

“My heart goes out to them. But the law’s clear that you can’t withdraw life support. This is probably the one area of that law that I do support.”

Both Klick and Muñoz’s state senator, Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, have been among the Capitol’s most visible leaders on the issue as lawmakers have granted the unborn “personhood” and restricted abortions.

Regardless of Muñoz’s condition, founder Joe Pojman of the Austin-based Texas Alliance for Life said, “There is an unborn child who is alive and deserves protection.”

“We are commending John Peter Smith Hospital for doing everything it can to continue to protect the life of that child,” he said.

“We would hope the state of Texas would always do everything in its power to keep children alive.”

Pojman remembers one local activist who helped get abortions banned at JPS: lawyer Neal Adams of Euless-based Northeast Tarrant Right-To-Life.

Adams remains on that group’s advisory board along with Hancock and both Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley of Hurst and County Commissioner Gary Fickes of Southlake, who help appoint the heavily Republican board of hospital managers.

Lately, Adams has been JPS’ contract lawyer.

But Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon’s office would represent JPS in event of a lawsuit over Muñoz, a hospital spokeswoman said Friday.

Under Texas law, JPS may not withdraw “life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant “patient.”

But a Dallas-based Baylor Health Care System ethicist who helped write the law has disagreed with JPS’s interpretation.

Dr. Robert L. Fine told The Associated Press that if Muñoz is brain-dead, she’s not an ill “patient,” she’s legally dead.

How you die depends where you live.

About Bud Kennedy

Bud Kennedy


Bud Kennedy is a homegrown Fort Worth guy who started out covering high school football here when he was 16. He went away to the Fort Worth Press and newspapers in Austin and Dallas, then came home in 1981.

Since 1987, he's written more than 1,000 weekly dining columns and more than 3,000 news and politics columns. If you don't like what he says about politics, read him on barbecue.

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