Marlise Munoz has been brain dead for more than two months. Her family has requested that life-support be removed. However, doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital in Texas disagree. As Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant, state law prohibits the removal of life support.
On November 26, 2013, Erick Munoz found his wife unresponsive on the kitchen floor. When they arrived at the hospital, doctors determined she likely suffered a blot clot. Although doctors said the 33-year-old woman is brain dead, they refuse to remove life support.
Erick was forced to file a lawsuit, as he believes his wife is dead. As reported by BBC, the plaintiff argues that “Marlise Munoz is legally dead, and to further conduct surgical procedures on a deceased body is nothing short of outrageous.”
According to Texas law, a pregnant woman cannot be removed from life support. However, the lawsuit argues that a deceased woman cannot be a “pregnant” as outlined in “Texas health and safety codes.”
Erick’s attorneys further argues that the fetus may be suffering. In an official statement, provided by Star-Telegram, the fetus’ development is described as “distinctly abnormal.” Doctors determined the fetus has numerous medical issues, likely caused by lack of oxygen when Marlise collapsed:
“The fetus suffers from hydrocephalus [water on the brain]. It also appears that there are further abnormalities, including a possible heart problem.”
The doctors also determined that “gestating within a dead and deteriorating body” has contributed to the abnormalities. The plaintiff will include the medical findings as evidence in the case.
Marlise Munoz’s case has gained national attention as it is highly unusual and controversial. Although there are few existing studies, a team of German researchers identified 19 similar cases. Between 1982 and 2010, a total of 19 pregnant women were declared brain dead. Of those women, 12 delivered healthy infants.
Although a majority of the babies lived, researchers said “the number of reported cases is too small” to make predictions about future cases. The researchers said “neurological, critical care, obstetric, neonatal transplant, and ethical staff, along with the patient’s family, should collectively make a decision about future treatment steps.”
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. The last two months have been agonizing for Erick and his entire family.
State District Judge R.H. Wallace will hear arguments from both sides today. The family is hoping for a decision soon, as they want Marlise Munoz to pass with dignity and have a proper burial.