Marlise Munoz, a paramedic from Haltom City, Texas (east of Fort Worth), has been on life support since collapsing almost two months ago from a pulmonary embolism. However, despite evidence that she is brain dead and her own wish that she not be kept alive by artificial means, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth refuses to take her off life support because she is pregnant. They claim that Texas law doesn't allow a pregnant woman to be disconnected from life support unless it can be known if the fetus is viable. Her husband, Erick, has sued the hospital to force it to pull the plug on Marlise's life support because Marlise is legally dead. An emergency hearing is scheduled tomorrow.
Last night, Erick's lawyers obtained evidence that, on paper, should make it a slam dunk for a judge to end Marlise's agony. The fetus has severe deformities that, on the face of it, make it very unlikely that it can survive outside of the womb.
“Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent the gender cannot be determined,” the statement says.Erick's case is based almost entirely on the claim that since Marlise has no spontaneous brain function, she is legally dead under Texas law--and therefore, the statute doesn't apply. This past Friday, his legal team obtained medical records that confirm Marlise is indeed brain dead. On paper, this would be the end of the ball game. You can't keep someone on life support who is already dead. If Marlise is indeed brain dead--and the hospital has not furnished any evidence to the contrary--keeping her on life support amounts to desecration of a corpse.
In addition the statement says the fetus has swelling of the brain — “hydrocephalus” — as well as a possible heart problem.
“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 statement from Munoz's lawyers Heather King and Jessica Janicek read.
The statement also appears an attempt to reinforce Erick Munoz' and some experts' position that the Texas statute doesn’t apply to dead people.
“Were that to be true, then it would be incumbent upon all health care providers to immediately conduct pregnancy tests on any woman of child bearing age who becomes deceased, and upon determining the deceased body was pregnant, hooking the body up to machines in an attempt to continue gestation,” the statement says. “ Surely, such a result was never intended nor should it be inferred.”
But even without that to consider, this new information about the fetus should eliminate any defensible reason to keep Marlise on life support. Usually, a fetus' gender can be determined between 18 and 20 weeks--and this fetus is at 22 weeks. Combined with the water on the brain and the heart problems, it's not likely this fetus is going to be viable.
As many of you know, I renounced the pro-life movement almost three years ago partly because of legislative overkill that has occurred far too often to assume good faith. This may be another example of such overkill. The thought that a woman who is dead by any logical, clinical and legal definition could be hooked up to life support just because she's pregnant is simply grotesque. I've been on the fence on the abortion issue, but have been leaning pro-choice--and this affair has me very close to going back all the way over the fence to the pro-choice side. It looks to be more evidence that I didn't leave the pro-life movement--the pro-life movement left me.