January 26, 2014 / 6:20 PM / 6 years ago

Texas hospital ends life support for brain-dead pregnant woman

FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas hospital removed a brain-dead pregnant woman from life support on Sunday in line with a court order, ending a battle with her husband who argued the fetus she had been forced to carry was withering inside her lifeless body, the family’s lawyers said.

Marlise Munoz, who was about 22 weeks pregnant, had been on life support in the hospital in Fort Worth since November 26 after suffering what her husband believes was a pulmonary embolism. Her husband, Erick Munoz, had sought to remove her from life support.

But Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn or withheld from a pregnant patient, despite a “do not resuscitate” request from the patient or a request from the family, and the hospital thus declined to remove life support.

A judge on Friday sided with the family in finding that Marlise Munoz was already legally dead and ordering the John Peter Smith Hospital to remove her ventilator, setting a Monday deadline.

Heather King, a lawyer for the Munoz family, said in a statement on Sunday that life support had been removed and Marlise Munoz’s body released to her husband, who had found her unconscious on the kitchen floor when she was 14 weeks pregnant and rushed her to the hospital.

“May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey,” the lawyer’s statement said, adding the family would now proceed “with the somber task of laying Marlise Munoz’s body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered.”

In seeking to have Munoz disconnected from life support, lawyers for the family had argued that she was clinically dead, could no longer be considered a pregnant women and that the fetus she was carrying was severely damaged.

The couple are both paramedics and have made it known to each other that they do not wish to be kept on life support, Erick Munoz said. Attorneys for Munoz have said the parents of Marlise agreed with her husband’s request to turn off the ventilator.

The lawyers also provided medical records they said show that the fetus suffered from oxygen deprivation and appears to have deformed lower extremities.

JPS Health Network, which runs the hospital, said it could not confirm that it had withdrawn life support, citing privacy policy. The hospital had said earlier that it would remove “life-sustaining” treatment, but did not say when it would act.

Lawyers for the hospital had argued they were complying with a law that was intended to protect unborn children.

“The past eight weeks have been difficult for the Munoz family, the caregivers and the entire Tarrant County community, which found itself involved in a sad situation,” the hospital’s statement said.

In July, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law tough new restrictions on abortion, including a ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy, marking one of the biggest victories in a decade for opponents of the procedure in the United States.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy

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