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Husband Sues Hospital To Take Pregnant, Brain Dead Wife Off Life Support

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(credit: Munoz Family)

(credit: Munoz Family)

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM/AP) - The husband of a brain-dead, pregnant Texas woman on Tuesday sued the hospital keeping her on life support, saying doctors are doing so against her and her family’s wishes.

The lawsuit filed in state district court asks a judge to order John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth to remove life support for Marlise Munoz, a North Texas woman who was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious on Nov. 26. Her family says the exact cause of her condition isn’t known, though a blood clot is a possibility.

The hospital has said a state law prohibits life-saving treatment from being denied to pregnant patients.

Erick Munoz said a doctor told him his wife is considered brain-dead. He says that he and his wife, who are both paramedics, are very familiar with end-of-life issues and that she has made it clear to him that she would not want life support in this kind of situation. Marlise Munoz’s parents agree.

Experts familiar with the Texas law say the hospital is incorrectly applying the statute because Munoz would be considered legally and medically dead.

“Marlise Munoz is dead, and she gave clear instructions to her husband and family – Marlise was not to remain on any type of artificial ‘life sustaining treatment’, ventilators or the like,” the lawsuit said. “There is no reason JPS should be allowed to continue treatment on Marlise Munoz’s dead body, and this Court should order JPS to immediately discontinue such.”

Erick Munoz’s lawyers, Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek, also asked for an expedited answer from the court. No hearing was immediately scheduled.

Hospital spokeswoman J.R. Labbe directed questions about the lawsuit to the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office, where spokeswoman Melody McDonald Lanier said attorneys were reviewing the case and declined to comment further.

Labbe previously has said hospital officials stand by their position: “This is not a difficult decision for us. We are following the law.”

Erick Munoz’s lawsuit argues that his directives – and the hospital’s decision to not follow them – no longer matter because Marlise Munoz is dead under Texas law.

“As such, her body should instead immediately be released to her family,” the lawsuit says.

The family has said they do not know the condition of the fetus. Marlise Munoz is believed to have been without oxygen for some time before her husband found her. Doctors have told Erick Munoz that they are monitoring the fetus, but Munoz has said he’s uncertain about how healthy the fetus will be given his wife’s condition.

“You know what kind of damage my wife sustained, and what kind of possible damage the baby inside her sustained,” he said during a recent interview.

Marlise’s mother, Lynne Machado, told CBS 11 news in a recent interview, “It’s hard to start the grieving process when we know she’s gone. It’s honoring what our daughter wanted. She did not want to be on life support.”

After filing the lawsuit, the Munoz family released a statement saying they are not talking to the media at this time.

A 2010 article in the journal BMC Medicine found 30 cases of brain-dead pregnant women over about 30 years. Of 19 reported results, the journal found 12 in which a viable child was born and had post-birth data for two years on only six of them – all of whom developed normally, according to the journal.

In refusing to take Marlise Munoz off life support, the hospital has cited a provision of the Texas Advance Directives Act that reads: “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.”

Experts interviewed by The Associated Press, including two who helped draft the legislation, said a brain-dead patient’s case wouldn’t be covered by the law.

“This patient is neither terminally nor irreversibly ill,” said Dr. Robert Fine, clinical director of the office of clinical ethics and palliative care for Baylor Health Care System. “Under Texas law, this patient is legally dead.”

Tom Mayo, a Southern Methodist University law professor, said he did not believe the law applied in this case.

“It simply says that if you were to take the life support away, you’d be outside the subchapter,” Mayo said. “It doesn’t have an affirmative command in it that you must keep life support going.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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