Judge: Remove life support for pregnant woman

Marlise Muñoz

Credit: Family photo

A family photo shows Marlise Muñoz, whom family members wish to remove from life support systems at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.

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Associated Press

Posted on January 24, 2014 at 7:02 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 24 at 11:54 PM

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A judge on Friday ordered a Texas hospital to remove life support for a pregnant, brain-dead woman.

The judge issued the ruling in the case of Marlise Munoz, who was being kept alive in a hospital in Fort Worth against her family's wishes. The judge gave the hospital until 5 p.m. Monday (2300 GMT) to remove life support.

The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. It also has caught the attention of both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Munoz's fetus deserves a chance to be born.

Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot.

Erick Munoz says he and his wife are paramedics who were clear about not wanting life support in this type of situation. His attorney argued that keeping the woman alive would set a dangerous precedent for similar cases in the future.

John Peter Smith Hospital maintained it had to protect the life of the unborn child. Hospital officials said they were bound by a state law prohibiting withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant patient. Several experts interviewed by The Associated Press have said the hospital was misapplying the law.

Earlier this week, Erick Munoz's attorneys said the fetus, now believed to be at about 22 weeks' gestation, is "distinctly abnormal." They attorneys said they based that statement on medical records they received from the hospital.

The local district attorney's office, which is representing the hospital in the lawsuit, said the hospital was expected to issue a statement later Friday in response to the ruling.

Not much is known about fetal survival when mothers suffer brain death during pregnancy. German doctors who searched for such cases found 30 instances of survival over nearly 30 years, according to an article published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2010.

But those mothers were further along in pregnancy — 22 weeks on average — when brain death occurred.

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