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Munoz Life-Support Decision Could Lead To Change In Law

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FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – Marlise Munoz died after being taken off life support Sunday morning.

After months of waiting her family is finally ready to give Marlise a proper burial, but getting to this point meant taking JPS Hospital in Fort Worth to court.

The hospital had argued that it was bound by state law and could not discontinue life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient.

On Friday, Judge R.H. Wallace Jr. ruled Munoz was brain dead ordered the hospital to take her off life support. Judge Wallace gave the hospital until Monday at 5 p.m. to comply with the order – giving them ample opportunity to appeal. The hospital chose not to.

“The Munoz family suffered a lot because of decision that now turns out was an error,” commented Tom Mayo, a professor at the Southern Methodist University School of Law. “As someone who helped write it [law] I thought the law was pretty clear.”

Yes that’s right, Mayo helped write the law at the heart of the case. “I don’t see where the lack of clarity is here.  I imagine we will be talking about changes for the next year,” Mayo said.

There are several portions of the law that may have to be clarified. “For one thing the pregnancy clause that the hospital said they were relying on may turn out to be unconstitutional at least before the fetus reaches the stage of viability,” Mayo said.

It was just before Thanksgiving when Erick Munoz found his wife Marlise, who was 14 weeks pregnant at the time, unconscious. The family says they were told the medical emergency was possibly due to a blood clot.

CBS 11 News legal expert Jerry Loftin watched the case closely and says the judge set the right precedent. “We can create Frankenstein. We have the ability to create and continue life,” Loftin said. The question is – is it ‘life.’ The next question is where do we draw the line?”

Loftin hypothesized the muddled legal possibilities. “Where do we go with this?” he asked. “Can you imagine everybody, that is every female, that may have died and technically be dead and someone says, ‘oh by the way, we think there may be a fetus.’”

State Representative Matt Krause said he plans to talk to lawmakers, before the next legislative session, about making clarifications to the law.

John Peter Smith Hospital is not commenting on the case.

As for the family at the center of this controversial case, Eric Munoz told the Associated Press that doctor’s believed the fetus likely would have been a girl, so he decided to name the fetus after the woman carrying her. The fetus was named Nicole, which Marlise Munoz’s middle name.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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