Paramedics Marlise and Erick Munoz of Crowley, Texas, had good reason to talk about their own end-of-life wishes, and Erick says his wife made it clear that she would never want to be kept on life support if there was no chance of recovery, reports the Dallas Morning News.
And yet 33-year-old Marlise, who died Nov. 26 after likely suffering a pulmonary embolism, has been on a ventilator since, against her and her family's wishes.
The issue: Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant when her parents say she was declared brain-dead (John Peter Smith Hospital has not publicly confirmed this). The New York Times reports that Texas is among 12 states that have laws preventing pregnant women from being removed from life support.
"It's not a matter of pro-choice and pro-life," her mother tells the Times. "It's about a matter of our daughter’s wishes not being honored by the state of Texas." Erick says that he's largely been kept in the dark about how the hospital plans to handle the fetus (it says it'll decide what to do once the fetus is at 24 weeks, reports WFAA; it's currently about 20), or what health it's in.
Hospital workers reportedly told the family that Marlise—and by extension the fetus—may have gone without breathing for an hour before Erick found on her kitchen floor; she had gotten up in the middle of the night to check on their crying 15-month-old, notes the Guardian.
But critics say the hospital may not be following the letter of the law, which states that "life-sustaining treatment" must be given to a pregnant patient; if she is brain-dead (versus in a coma or vegetative state), she is technically not alive.
As a medical ethics expert tells the Times, "The Texas Legislature can’t require doctors to do the impossible and try to treat someone who's dead." (Click to read about another contentious medical case.)