By Nomaan Merchant
FORT WORTH, TEXAS: A brain-dead, pregnant woman’s body was removed from life support in Texas Sunday, as the hospital keeping her on machines against her family’s wishes acceded to a judge’s ruling that it was misapplying state law.
Marlise Munoz’s body soon will be buried by her husband and parents, after John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth announced it would not fight Judge R.H. Wallace Jr.’s Friday order to pronounce her dead and return her body to her family. The 23-week-old fetus she was carrying will not be born.
The hospital’s decision brings an apparent end to a case that became a touchstone for debates about the beginning and end of life, and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus.
Munoz’s husband, Erick Munoz, sued the hospital because it would not remove life support as he said his wife would have wanted in such a situation. Erick and Marlise Munoz worked as paramedics and were familiar with end-of-life issues, and Erick said his wife had told him she would not want to be kept alive under such circumstances.
But the hospital refused his request, citing Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient, regardless of her end-of-life wishes.
Wallace sided Friday with Erick Munoz, saying in his order: “Mrs. Munoz is dead.”
Wallace had given the hospital until 5 p.m. today to comply with his order, but officials there announced Sunday morning that it would forego any appeal.
“From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it,” according to a statement released by hospital spokeswoman J.R. Labbe. “On Friday, a state district judge ordered the removal of life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Munoz. The hospital will follow the court order.”
Shortly afterward, Erick Munoz’s attorneys announced that she had been disconnected from life support about 11:30 a.m.
“May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey,” they said in a news release.
Erick found his wife unconscious in their Haltom City, Texas, home Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot. Doctors soon determined that she was brain-dead, which meant that she was both medically and legally dead under Texas law, but kept her on machines to keep her organs functioning for the sake of the fetus.