Pregnant Texas Woman Taken Off Life Support
(FORT WORTH, Texas) -- A pregnant Texas woman has been removed from life support after months of legal wrangling between her family, who wanted her removed from the machines, and the hospital, which said it had a legal duty to keep her alive while her fetus was viable.
Marlise Munoz was removed from life support around 11:30 a.m. CT on Sunday, according to a statement from the Munoz family attorneys.
Munoz has been on life support since a suspected pulmonary embolism rendered her brain-dead in November. On Friday, a judge ordered John Peter Smith Hospital, the Texas hospital where Munoz was treated, to remove her from life support by 5 p.m. Monday.
The hospital said in a statement earlier Sunday that they would not appeal the judge's ruling.
"JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it," read the statement. "The hospital will follow the court order."
The family of Munoz had sued to get the 33-year-old paramedic off life support after she was found to be brain dead.
The family issued a statement Sunday confirming that she had been removed from life-support.
"The Munoz and Machado families will now proceed with the somber task of laying Marlise Munoz's body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered," read a statement from the family's attorneys.
Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant at the time she suffered the suspected embolism. As a result of her pregnancy, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth said state law barred it from removing her from life support until Munoz miscarried or a baby was born.
Munoz's family said she never wanted to be on life support, and they sued to have her removed from it on Jan. 14, arguing that the law didn't apply to her because she was legally dead.
Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. agreed.
"Mrs. Munoz is dead," the judge ruled Friday.
After the ruling, Munoz's husband, Eric, stood with his lawyers as they made a statement on his behalf.
"This is the decision we sought. There is nothing happy about today. This was a sad situation all the way around," Munoz family attorney Heather King told reporters after the ruling. "We are relieved that Eric Munoz can now move forward with the process of burying his wife."
When asked for his response to the ruling an emotional Eric Munoz could barely answer "No comment."
The case has sparked a heated debate about whether a woman who is medically dead should be kept on life support for the duration of her pregnancy for the sake of her fetus. Although Munoz's mother told ABC News that this is not about abortion for them, the case has also garnered attention from both sides of the abortion debate.
On Wednesday, the family's lawyers announced that the 22-week-old fetus was "distinctly abnormal," with water on the brain, a possible heart condition and lower extremity deformities.
Texas law states that "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient," but the judge determined it doesn't apply to Munoz because she is already legally dead. In Texas, death is legally defined as "the "irreversible cessation of the person's spontaneous respiratory and circulatory functions," according to the Munoz family's legal filing.
According to the suit, the hospital interpreted the law in a way that "makes no sense and amounts to nothing more than the cruel and obscene mutilation of a deceased body against the expressed will of the deceased and her family."
They also questioned whether the law was constitutional, but the judge did not make a ruling.
Because John Peter Smith Hospital is a local public hospital, the Tarrant County District Attorney's office represented it. On behalf of the hospital, the office filed its response to the suit last week, in which it denied all allegations.
The family's heartbreak began on Nov. 26, when Munoz got out of bed in the middle of the night because her 14-month-old son, Mateo, began to cry, Machado said. When the baby continued to cry and Munoz didn't return, Munoz's firefighter husband got up too. That's when he found Munoz on the kitchen floor. She was not breathing and had no pulse. Her skin had taken on a bluish color, Machado said.
Doctors suspect she had a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in the lungs, but they won't know until an autopsy can be performed, Machado said.
"It's hard to reach the point where you wish your wife's body would stop," Erick Munoz told ABC News' Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate WFAA-TV.
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