Fort Worth hospital withdraws life support for pregnant, brain-dead woman

Marlise Muñoz, a pregnant, brain-dead woman, was taken off machines at a Fort Worth hospital Sunday and her body was released to her family.

Staff Writer

The family that has been fighting for weeks to have a pregnant, brain-dead woman removed from life support can now begin to grieve, their attorneys say.

Marlise Muñoz, 33, was taken off machines at a Fort Worth hospital about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, and her body was released to her husband, Erick Muñoz.

The family “will now proceed with the somber task of laying Marlise Muñoz’s body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered,” attorneys said in a statement.

The case, which garnered international attention, began an emotionally charged debate about end-of-life decisions — especially when balancing the rights of a pregnant woman and a fetus.

Marlise Muñoz, a paramedic and mother of a toddler, collapsed Nov. 26 at her Haltom City home from a possible pulmonary embolism. Because she was 14 weeks pregnant, the hospital refused to remove her from life support, citing state law that protects the life of an unborn child despite a patient’s end-of-life wishes. . .

Tom Mayo, who teaches medical ethics at Southern Methodist University and UT Southwestern Medical School, said he doesn’t think the Texas law needs to be rewritten. It just needs to be read correctly, he said.

Mayo was part of a committee that drafted the Texas Advance Directives Act in the late 1990s. The act included a 1977 passage about treating pregnant patients that states, “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.”

But Mayo said that subchapter — and the whole statute — applies only if the woman is alive. That means it didn’t apply in the Muñoz case, he said.

“The court was right about the hospital misreading the statute, and I really have a hard time seeing where we might make it clearer,” he said.

“The fact they were willing to disconnect the ventilator today rather than filing an appeal tomorrow makes me think they just got it wrong, and now they’ve been told they got it wrong, they’re willing to do right by the family.”

If Texas legislators did try to rewrite the law, it would likely become entangled with partisan politics and the abortion debate, Mayo said. “There would be a big fight if they tried to remove it.”

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