Judge: Marlise Muñoz to be removed from life support

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by JOBIN PANICKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @jobinpnews

WFAA

Posted on January 25, 2014 at 11:13 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 29 at 10:25 AM

FORT WORTH -- District Judge R.H. Wallace ruled Friday afternoon the brain-dead, pregnant mother being kept alive at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth should be removed from life support.

Marlise Muñoz' husband, Erick Muñoz, filed a lawsuit against John Peter Smith Hospital seeking to remove life support from his wife. He said Marlise was clear about her wishes not to be kept alive in that state.

The family was crying after the ruling.

Texas' Health and Safety Code says a person cannot "withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment [...] for a pregnant patient." The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, which represented the hospital, said the request to remove Marlise Muñoz from life support “ignores consideration of the unborn child.”

The Muñoz family has said medical records show the fetus is "distinctly abnormal" and has water on the brain and may have a heart condition. Mrs. Muñoz is believed to be 22 weeks and five days into the pregnancy.

The Muñoz family attorneys argued Mrs. Muñoz is brain-dead, and therefore can't be considered a "pregnant patient."

The judge agreed, saying the state law does not apply to Marlise Muñoz "because she is deceased."

Judge Wallace said Mrs. Muñoz must be removed from life support by 5 p.m. Monday.

"We are relieved that Erick Muñoz can now move on with the process of burying his wife," said Muñoz family attorney Heather King after Friday's order.

Five women huddled against cold wind outside the Tarrant County Criminal Justice Center Friday to show their support for the Muñoz family. They were the only demonstrators for the emotion-charged case. One was a nurse. Another the mother of a six-month-old, who held her baby boy snug to her chest beneath several layers of warm clothes.

The women held candles, and a sign that said "Marlise Rest in Peace." After a judge ordered JPS Hospital to remove life support, demonstrator Autumn Brackeen commended the judge for what she called “a difficult, but ethical decision.”

Not all agreed.

"Something or somebody should've appointed an attorney to represent that baby," said Pastor Stephen Broden, a pro-life advocate who attended the hearing. "It didn't happen here."

Fort Worth attorney Trent Loftin, who isn't connected to this case, said he believes Friday's hearing in front of District Judge R.H. Wallace likely won't be the end of the legal wrangling. 

"I think whatever the judge decides, the other side will appeal to the second Court of Appeals and eventually to the Supreme Court of the State of Texas," Loftin said.

But even if Marlise Muñoz had an advance directive or a living will stating her wishes, it would be moot because of the Texas law.

Section 166.049 of the Texas Health and Safety Code reads: "A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient."

In this case, Erick Muñoz did not have an advanced directive in writing. He did, however, have a mutual understanding with his wife about what to do if she were on life-support.

Even if he had had something in writing, it would not have mattered. Doctors were advised to follow the law as it reads in the Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 166.

JPS Hospital released a statement Friday afternoon that said they "appreciate the potential impact of the consequences of the [judge's] order on all parties involved and will be consulting with the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office."

E-mail jpanicker@wfaa.com

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