FORT WORTH, Texas – A judge has ordered a Texas hospital to remove life support for a pregnant, brain-dead woman.
Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. issued the ruling Friday in the case of Marlise Munoz. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth has been keeping Munoz on life support against her family's wishes.
Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot. Erick Munoz said his wife, a fellow paramedic, had clearly told him: If she ever fell into such a state, she was not to be kept alive. His attorney argued that keeping the woman alive would set a dangerous precedent.
But John Peter Smith Hospital had argued that it had to protect the life of the unborn child. Hospital officials contended they were bound by a state law prohibiting withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant patient.
Munoz is carrying a fetus, now believed to be at about 22 weeks' gestation, that is "distinctly abnormal," attorneys for Erick Munoz said in a statement earlier this week, based on medical records they received from the hospital.
"Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined," Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek said, also noting the fetus has fluid building up inside the skull and possibly has a heart problem.
The case 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 gripped attention on both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Munoz's fetus deserves a chance to be born.
Not much is known about fetal survival when mothers suffer brain death during pregnancy. German doctors who searched for such cases found 30 of them in nearly 30 years, according to an article published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2010.
Those mothers were further along in pregnancy — 22 weeks on average — when brain death occurred than in the Texas case. Birth results were available for 19 cases. In 12, a viable child was born. Follow-up results were available for six, all of whom developed normally.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.