News of ‘abnormal’ Muñoz fetus dims hope

01/23/2014 5:58 PM

11/12/2014 3:47 PM

The deeply troubling questions surrounding Marlise Muñoz keep growing and getting harder to face.

Pending further disclosures in a hearing scheduled Friday before state District Judge R.H. Wallace — knowing the legal system, even that might not be decisive or an outcome could be delayed — we know little about the 33-year-old who is being kept on life support at Fort Worth’s John Peter Smith Hospital because her body houses a developing fetus.

What we know is what we’ve been told by her family and their attorneys.

We’ve heard the case debated endlessly on CNN and through other national, state and local news outlets. Still, we’re long on opinion and short on facts.

The scant facts about the fetus, almost a baby by now, are hardest of all to face.

The latest reports are that the 22-week-old fetus is “distinctly abnormal,” suffers from hydrocephalus [water on the brain], has deformed lower extremities and a possible heart problem.

I believe we can accept what Marlise’s husband, Erick, and his attorneys tell us: Marlise is dead.

She has no brain activity, won’t recover it, and her body is wasting away as the machines keep it going enough to sustain the development of her fetus but not much more.

We’ve known that for a couple of weeks now. But for me, that’s not enough to say the machines should be unplugged.

There is a fetus inside of Marlise. It deserves a chance to live.

Even if you endorse the concept of abortion as approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, you have to be troubled by this.

Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed at her home, was later discovered by her husband and ended up at JPS. Before her collapse, she could have had an abortion under current Texas law.

She didn’t.

Supreme Court decisions say she could have made that decision because she had the right to determine the use of her body.

Many people say she also should have the right to determine what’s to happen to her body after her death. She could have left a written advance directive giving a family member some say in that, including what to do if she were pregnant.

She didn’t.

The family still would have run up against the Texas law that says life support must not be removed from a person who is pregnant. That law should be changed to give family members some discretion, in consultation with doctors.

In that case, news like the latest about this fetus could have an enormous influence.

I’m sure there is a wide range of effects on babies born with hydrocephalus. I saw some of them once on a visit to a state institution where they were housed and cared for.

I have seen nothing more heart-breaking in my life. I have been told that many of these babies die shortly after birth. I would guess that many are aborted before that.

The choice before Judge Wallace and the courts — which is but another way of saying the choice before us as a society — is whether to grant Marlise’s family’s wishes and turn off the machines that are keeping her body going.

The alternative is to keep them going for a few more weeks to allow the fetus inside Marlise — we would then call it a baby — to be delivered and given a chance to live or die on its own.

There is no choice that ensures a good outcome.

I would guess that Erick Muñoz has known this much longer than we have. It never made much sense that he would have urged doctors to turn off the machines and let both his wife and his baby go — if that baby had a chance at a good life.

My heart goes out to him and to Marlise’s parents.

About Mike Norman

Mike Norman

@mnorman9

Take an issue that's full of sometimes-complicated details like Texas public school finance, throw in an element of urgency like the need for better transportation solutions in Dallas-Fort Worth, add a healthy helping of local interest spiced with some controversy and you have the perfect assignment for Mike Norman to examine in depth. Mike is the newspaper's editorial director.

Email Mike at mnorman@star-telegram.com.

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