UPDATE: Judge orders hospital to take pregnant brain-dead Texas woman off ventilator

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(Image Credit: CNN.com)

(CNN) – A Texas hospital must remove a pregnant woman from life support.

A Forth Worth Judge gave John Peter Smith Hospital until Monday to remove Marlise Munoz from a ventilator and other machines.

The ruling came after the hospital admitted Munoz had been brain dead since November 28th, and that her fetus wasn’t viable.

Munoz’s husband asked a court Tuesday to force a hospital to take her off a respirator, ventilator and other machines, saying her wishes shouldn’t be disregarded just because she is pregnant.

Erick Munoz filed an emergency motion as well as a complaint against John Peter Smith Hospital, both with the same goal: to have the hospital disconnect the machines so that her family can take her body and give her a proper burial.

Marlise Munoz is legally dead, and to further conduct surgical procedures on a deceased body is nothing short of outrageous,” her husband contends in the motion.

Notably, officials at the Fort Worth, Texas, hospital where 33-year-old Marlise Munoz is have not publicly declared her dead (though they have not disputed her husband’s assertions either). Erick Munoz — like his wife, a paramedic by training — said the doctors told him Marlise “had lost all activity in her brain stem,” and an accompanying chart stated she was “brain dead,” according to his lawsuit.

The hospital referred requests for comment to the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, which said it will defend the medical facility against the lawsuit. It is legal counsel for John Peter Smith Hospital “in a number of civil areas.”

Noting it first learned of the legal action just before noon Tuesday, the office said it “will file a response in due course” but won’t have any further comment now “because litigation is pending.”

Hospital spokesman J.R. Labbe said last month that doctors were simply trying to obey a Texas law that states that “you cannot withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient.”

And last week, Labbe told CNN that the hospital believed “the courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction and resolution in this matter.”

Munoz’s husband responds by saying that “Marlise cannot possibly be a pregnant patient — Marlise is dead.” Furthermore, he argued that her wishes — relayed, he said, in conversations but not in writing that she not be on “life-sustaining” measures when she is brain dead — shouldn’t be treated differently than a man or other woman simply because of her pregnancy.

“Marlise has a fundamental right to make medical decisions regarding her own body,” her husband contended in the motion. “… To take those rights away from Marlise, and force her to be subject to various medical procedures simply because she is pregnant, is a gross violation of her constitutional right.”

As the lawsuit details, the story began at 2 a.m. on November 26, when Erick found his wife unconscious on the kitchen floor. At the time, she was 14 weeks’ pregnant with the couple’s second child.

Soon after that, she was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital, where Erick Munoz claims he was told his wife “was for all purposes brain dead.” The family also says the fetus may have been deprived of oxygen.

In the lawsuit, he claims subsequent measures taken at the hospital — and, in turn, the state law used to justify them — amount “to nothing more than the cruel and obscene mutilation of a deceased body against the expressed will of the deceased and her family.”

“Marlise Munoz’s death is a horrible and tragic circumstance, but by no means should (the hospital) be entitled to continue cutting into her deceased body in front of her husband and family under the guise of ‘life-sustaining’ treatment,” according to the lawsuit.

Tom Mayo, a Southern Methodist University law professor who helped write the applicable Texas law, said he believes the hospital is misinterpreting it.

“She’s not a patient anymore,” Mayo said. “And so I don’t see how we can use a provision of the law that talks about treating or not treating a patient in a case where we really don’t have a patient.”

But Sunny Hostin, a CNN legal analyst, said that she thinks the state statute as written is “ambiguous” and “vague.”

“When you have these murky areas, you have to go to court, because courts provide clarity, courts provide direction,” Hostin said. “And that’s why I think the lawsuit is the right thing … to jump to the conclusion.”

TM & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.


  • Sheila

    it is sad but it looks like they just don’t want the baby I know if it was me I would want my baby to live because it is apart of us both and if the Lord has kept this baby alive why should you be the one to kill it just saying

    • Joan

      I have read reports that the baby also has problems–fluid on the brain and deformed legs. The baby was probably deprived of oxygen also and will be brain damaged if it lives at all. What a horrible decision to have to make to remove life support, but if it was me, I would hope that my husband and family would make a stand to remove my life support also!

  • Brenda

    well im hearing the husbands side of the story, What caused the woman to be brain dead in the first place ? was she sick? what are her parents saying about taking her off of life support and letting the baby die?

    • MadisonCountyMom

      Marlise’s parents have fully supported her husband’s efforts to have her removed from ventilators. The husband did not begin pursuing this course until she had been determined to have no brain stem activity and was declared brain dead. At that time, as a paramedic, he was well aware of what this meant, and he began fighting for what his wife had made clear that she wanted. Her parents have been in full agreement with his efforts since the tragic situation began.

  • Mandy

    I pray that my husband would fight to give our child life. This seems like he is selfish and doesn’t even care about his wife or child he keeps saying she is dead and he doesn’t want the baby to live. I know my husband would do everything in his power to save us both and hope for a miracle to happen. Praying for mother and baby!!

    • MadisonCountyMom

      If your husband were watching your deceased body “develop” a baby whose brain and heart were developing as liquid in the place of tissue, and whose tiny body was so malformed that a gender couldn’t even be guessed at, and who, at no time, showed any sign of life-sustaining development, would he still insist that you and your unborn baby be mutilated before his very eyes? Or, might he love you and his baby more than that, and insist that you both be allowed to pass on peacefully and with dignity?

    • april

      How can you look at it this way? She is dead and the fetus was deprived of oxygen and left severely and mentally deformed, with absolutely no quality of human life; this is not abortion, this is nature! That baby was suffering the minute the mommy passed out and the baby is being kept alive by the ventilator, furthermore, they made no pact, obviously you didn’t read this thoroughly. I would never want this for my husband, children or parents. Let me and my child go in peace and have this hospital stop playing God. Her family fully supports her husband on this. Selfish? This man is now raising a child on his own, while having to stare at his dead wife, lying in a hospital bed. A bed the hospital wants to keep her in, until they take the baby. That could be several more months. I hardly call this man selfish and this is far from murder! You are a very judgmental person, may God have mercy on you for passing judgment on this man. I hope and pray you never find yourself in a position like this! Please, go back and read this article entirely before posting unfounded statements!

  • valerie

    Her entire family agrees. Yes her wishes should be respected, but she also did not know she was pregnant. Don’t they think she may have wishes to save her baby at all cost? If possible, her family should let them try to save the poor baby. Sounds to me they just don’t want to deal with a possibly handicapped child. So sad.

    • charles

      Did they not say the baby was gone to due to the lack of oxygen the husband is a paramedic he knows what the facts are and understands them im a EMT and I know what he is looking at and im sure its like being trapped in hell not being able to put his wife to rest

  • Jessica

    Unbelievable. He sounds like a selfish (EDIT) to me. And an overly dramatic one at that. They’re going to mutilate her body? No sir, they’re going to save the life of your child. Every decent woman I know would want every measure taken to save their baby.

  • Bob Barnett

    I think people who feel free to make judgments and accusations about private, incredibly painful, personal medical decisions in other people’s family tragedies are the jerks. ..

  • Jessica Huff

    Sounds like someone who doesn’t want a baby. If I were a man and in love with my wife and she were pregnant and brain dead I’d do everything I could for that baby. this guy didn’t love his wife nor the baby.

    • MadisonCountyMom

      Please be careful about saying such hurtful things about a man whose heart is broken, having lost both his wife and baby in a sudden tragedy. The father is trying to let them go with dignity. The baby’s brain and heart are developing as liquid where tissue should have been and the body is not even developing enough to determine gender. The baby has stopped all development, and that has been the clear coming outcome for weeks now. The father and Marlise’s parents are watching the hospital force inhumane and grotesque “development” of the baby he very much loves and wanted. He WANTS the baby to live, but through his medical knowledge and the hospital reports he’s received on the baby’s condition, he knows that this is essentially using his child for one of two things: political standing or a science experiment. He is trying to maintain the dignity of the wife and baby he loves dearly that have been taken from him and his young child far too soon.

  • Rebecca Campbell

    Why would you let the baby live and develop for another 7 weeks and then decide to end it’s life. Babies at 20 weeks have been known to survive. If they take her off the machines will the baby suffer before it dies? If they don’t want the baby I’m sure someone out there will handicapped or not!!!

  • Gilford Berry

    A tragedy but a 14 week fetus has little chance of survival so they would have to grow it inside its dead mother for at least a couple of months to give it a chance. And remember that they said the fetus may have been deprived of oxygen as well so brain damage is certainly possible if not probable. In a case like this, I’d respect the husband’s decision. Certainly no judge or blogger like one of us has the right to make a decision for their family.

  • Shonda

    I couldn’t imagine being in this situation. There are so many emotions this family must be feeling. To have to decide to go ahead and take the wife off the machine so that they can grieve and start the healing process; keep her on the machine and pray for a miracle; what to do about the baby; will the baby have complications; are they equiped to deal with possiblity of hadicapped child. It is a lot for any one family to deal with in one life time. Praying for the family. No judgements here!

  • skillpot

    A GREAT move, Judge! It was way over due! Why is it that do-gooders keep getting in the way of personal decisions a spouse has to make? Just like in the case, in the State of Florida, a few years back!

  • Brooke McIntire

    The baby most likely hasn’t been viable since the mother stopped breathing at 14 weeks. We truly don’t know all of the details, but I’m sure that if the husband believed the baby were still capable of living, he would opt to save it. I’m a strong pro-life proponent, but when the mother literally dies at 14 weeks, there is no hope for the baby. Even the hospital has admitted that the baby is not viable, that they were simply doing what their interpretation of the law demanded.

  • Bonita Thornton

    This is a private matter that should be left to the family. No one else has a horse in that race, so to speak. Nobody but the members of that family know how they feel. We all, like to form opinions when we need to keep them to ourselves.

  • Dizzy

    The above report says the baby is NOT viable. Viable means (alive).

    The ruling came after the hospital admitted Munoz had been brain dead since November 28th, and that her fetus wasn’t viable.

  • pris

    If she was already 14 weeks as of Nov. 28 she is now 23 weeks…this means this baby is now able to hear sound and is beginning to move around. If this baby is still alive and seems to be healthy I don’t understand why a Judge (another human being) would order murder upon an innocent life. I understand the mother is no longer “alive” but for some reason this baby still is. It sickens me to think of the pain this baby will feel as it slowly loses his/her oxygen…its disgusting!

    • MadisonCountyMom

      The baby has not developed these functions, sadly, because the baby’s brain tissue has developed as liquid, as well as its heart tissue. The baby is being kept mechanically alive in the same way as the mother: inhumanely, and by machines. It is tragic, but it IS. The judge did not order “murder.” The judge ordered that they both be allowed to be let go with dignity and humanity.

      I would fully support the hospital’s measures if the baby’s brain and heart had already developed and were functioning before the mother’s death. Then, even with the high chance of brain damage and deformity, the baby would, and should be given the chance to gestate as long as possible, and then be taken from the mother’s body and allowed to develop in the hospital until able to go home. Completely appropriate in such a case. And, had that been the case, the father here would never have taken these measures to have his wife and baby taken off the machines. The father knew what this length and type of development of his baby in the body of his deceased wife, would mean for the baby. Even when the hospital’s reports confirmed exactly what he knew to be true, he still could not convince them to let her and the baby go. The hospital became hard-nosed about it and pushed back against someone who questioned their initial decisions. As such, the hospital was abusive and negligent, and should face consequences for what they’ve put this family through.

  • MadisonCountyMom

    Please gather all information, everyone. We are not talking about a baby who will have deformities or special needs. We are talking about a baby whose brain is liquid where tissue should be, and whose heart STOPPED developing far short of actual sustainable life. Specifics:

    As has been reported on national news stations, the baby was without oxygen for an undetermined amount of time. Also, and this is important: The baby was determined earlier this week to be so poorly developed and so badly deformed (Marlise’s dead body cannot sustain the development of a baby) that the gender of the baby cannot be determined at all. What should have developed by this time for the baby to live at all, stopped developing weeks ago. The brain formation and heart development has amounted to nothing more than liquid where tissue should have formed. This is per the doctor’s report that the attorney released earlier. The hospital has known for a while now that the baby was as deceased as the mother, and how inhumane it is to continue forcing development of a poor little body with no brain or sustainable heart tissue.

    I get the compassionate souls here who want a baby to be given a chance at life. I have been a special ed teacher for several years, and I know well that disabilities and deformities do not affect the preciousness or value of a child in the least. The problem in this case is that medical professionals knew that trying to grow a child within a cadaver is not only unethical, but also impossible when she was only 14 weeks pregnant and both mother and baby suffered a lack of oxygen significant enough in length that it helped kill the mother. The baby never had a chance, and the father knew it based on the medical information given to him about what happened to his wife. That, and ONLY that is why he seemed to “not give the baby a chance to live.” He was well aware that the baby would not be able to develop in these conditions. I cannot imagine how badly it must hurt to see his wife, whom he will not bring home from the hospital, continue to exhibit mechanically-forced signs of “life,” while watching his never-to-be-born baby continue to develop in an inhumane and gruesome progression that could have been avoided if the hospital had not egregiously usurped the rights of a terminal patient’s next-of-kin.

  • Johnna

    The hospital isn’t exactly being hard nosed about it. They are trying to abide by a vaguely written law and let a court decide what the state laws application is. It’s pretty standard in complicated ethical issues for hospitals to stick to the letter of the law and let the court take responsibility for the decision.

    keep in mind, if after she is taken off life support and she has an autopsy that determines someone murdered her, the hospital doesn’t want to get tangled up as an accomplice to that murder even if the baby isn’t viable.

    the hospital is dancing a fine line between laws concerning the mothers autonomy and the rights of the baby, as with a lot of complicated ethical situations letting the court decide is the safest route for them.

  • Jessica

    To everyone saying the husbands a “insert some insult here” for not wanting to save his child. There isn’t really a child left to save, because of what happened to the mother the fetus is severly deformed. They wouldn’t have a quality of life.

    “”Just prior to Friday’s court hearing, lawyers representing the husband released a statement to the media insisting the 22-week-old fetus was “distinctly abnormal.”

    “Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined,” lawyers Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek wrote.

    “The fetus suffers from hydrocephalus [water on the brain]. It also appears that there are further abnormalities, including a possible heart problem, that cannot be specifically determined due to the immobile nature of Mrs. Munoz’s deceased body,” the lawyers wrote.

    “Quite sadly, this information is not surprising due to the fact that the fetus, after being deprived of oxygen for an indeterminate length of time, is gestating within a dead and deteriorating body, as a horrified family looks on in absolute anguish, distress and sadness,” the lawyers wrote.””

    SRC article: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-brain-dead-pregnant-woman-life-support,0,275301.story

  • Polly. Talley

    I am sorry but murder is murder any way you spell it. When the wife and husband made that life support pact she was not pregnant.and the husband is say in anything to justify murdering his own child. How is he gonna feel when they pull that plug and that baby inside starts fighting for oxygen . He is just a selfish person who does not want the responsibility of a newborn without a woman to take care of. Has the medical experts tested to prove that this baby has all the problems they say or is that just assumptions they are going on . Murder is still murder. That is what is going on that baby has lived for a reason that only God knows. The husband may get away with it because a judge says so, and that may ease his conscious but the real judge will not be so easy going on him. May God have mercy on his soul.
    May god have mercy on that innocent baby in the womb and not let it suffer.

    • jennifer

      the baby has liquid where a brain should be, the baby has liquid where the heart should be, the baby is so deformed that there is no way of being able to tell the sex of the baby. the child is not thriving, the child is not developing like it should. there is no way this child would survive!

  • Jessica

    I understand the baby has been determined to be non viable. But, what disgusts me most about the story, is I never ever once heard the family express any concern for the child whatsoever.

  • Shonda

    With all the controversy about the after effects, has there been any metion of what caused the monther’s initial condition???

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