Texas law forces hospital to keep pregnant woman on life support against her family's wishes

The family of the woman say the hospital's actions violate her end-of-life directive

Published December 23, 2013 7:08PM (EST)

          (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-332422p1.html'>VILevi</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(VILevi via Shutterstock)

A hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, has refused to take a pregnant woman off life support despite her family's protests that the medical intervention is a violation of her end-of-life directive and their personal wishes.

As Andrea Grimes at RH Reality Check reports, Marlise Munoz has been on life support since she collapsed in November while 14 weeks pregnant. Munoz's husband, Erick, has said that his wife did not want to be "kept alive by machine," but that her wishes are being ignored because of a Texas statute that excludes pregnant women from making end-of-life decisions through an advance medical directive. According to the statute, "A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.” The language of the end-of-life directive also states, "I understand that under Texas law this directive has no effect if I have been diagnosed as pregnant."

"We knew what her wishes were," Erick told a local news station. "I don't agree with this law ... I don't."

Erick also expressed concerns about the health of the fetus, saying that doctors are not sure how long it may have been deprived of nutrients and oxygen after his wife collapsed.

A spokesperson for John Peter Smith Hospital, where Munoz is being kept, told RH Reality Check that its decision to keep Munoz on life support is part of its "responsibility ... to be a good corporate citizen while also providing quality care for our patients.”

“Advance directives are governed by state law,” she added. “At all times, JPS will follow the law as it applies to healthcare in the state of Texas.”

Munoz's family could try to get a court injunction or restraining order to allow her end-of-life directive to be carried out, though legal experts commented to local news station WFAA that the odds of finding a Texas judge to grant such an order may be limited.


By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Abortion Bodily Autonomy End-of-life Care Reproductive Rights Right To Die Texas Women's Rights