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Life support removed from pregnant, brain-dead woman

Life support was removed from pregnant brain-dead Haltom City woman shortly before noon Sunday after John Peter Smith Hospital said it would not appeal a state district judge’s ruling to remove life-sustaining measures.

“Our client, Erick Muñoz, has authorized us to give notice that today, at approximately 11:30 a.m ... Marlise Muñoz’s body was disconnected from “life support” and released to Mr. Muñoz,” said a statement from the family’s attorneys. “The Muñoz and Machado families will now proceed with the somber task of laying Marlise Muñoz’s body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered.”

“May Marlise Muñoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey,” said the statement released by attorneys Heather L. King and Jessica H. Janicek.

Marlise Muñoz, a 33-year-old woman who was 14 weeks pregnant when she arrived at the hospital after suffering an embolism. State District Judge R.H. Wallace ruled on Friday that she should be taken off life support after county-owned hospital refused to do so.

Marlise Muñoz was being taken off life support at the same time that the hospital released a statement saying that it would not appeal Wallace’s ruling.

“The past eight weeks have been difficult for the Muñoz family, the caregivers and the entire Tarrant County community, which found itself involved in a sad situation,” according to a statement from J.R. Labbe, a spokeswoman for JPS Health Network. The hosptial “...has followed what we believed were the demands of a state statute. From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it.”

“On Friday, a state district judge ordered the removal of life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Muñoz. The hospital will follow the court order,” Labbe said.

On Friday, Wallace said he agreed with attorneys for the Muñoz family that a 1999 state law requiring pregnant women to be kept on life support does not apply to Muñoz because she is brain-dead.

Wallace gave the county-owned hospital until 5 p.m. Monday to decide whether to appeal.

The Tarrant County district attorney’s office argued at the hearing Friday that it must balance the interests of the state to protect an unborn child against the wishes of the Muñoz family to end life support.

Attorneys for the Muñoz family released a statement saying that medical records indicate the fetus is “distinctly abnormal,” with lower extremities deformed, and suffers from a number of other serious health conditions, including water on the brain and heart problems.

Muñoz has been hospitalized since just before Thanksgiving. Husband Erick Muñoz found her lying on the kitchen floor.

When he was told at the hospital that his wife was brain-dead, he requested that life support be removed. He said he and his wife had discussed what to do in such a situation.

The hospital declined, citing a Texas law that requires a pregnant woman to be kept on life support until the fetus is viable, usually at 24 to 26 weeks.

Marlise Muñoz’s pregnancy is about to enter its 23rd week.

Erick Muñoz sued JPS. His attorneys argued that the hospital failed to recognize that Marlise Muñoz was not a pregnant patient but a clinically dead person.

The hospital acknowledged as much in court documents.

Assistant District Attorney Larry Thompson said Texas legislators have demonstrated a commitment to protecting the unborn by including in laws that a human being is alive at every stage of gestation.

The Legislature also passed the Woman’s Right to Know Act, which says substantial medical evidence shows that an unborn child is capable of feeling pain by no later than 20 weeks after fertilization.

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