Texas Woman Taken Off Life Support; Unborn Baby Also Dies

By:  Warren Mass
Texas Woman Taken Off Life Support; Unborn Baby Also Dies

Marlise Muñoz — a pregnant woman who had been described as “brain dead” — died soon after being removed from life support machines at a Fort Worth hospital on the morning of January 26. Mrs. Muñoz was hospitalized after collapsing at her home on November 26, apparently from a pulmonary embolism.

When Muñoz was admitted to the hospital, 14 weeks pregnant at the time, doctors continued life support by means of a heart-lung machine indefinitely because Texas state law requires that the life of an unborn child be safeguarded by keeping the mother alive.

The Texas Advance Directives Act (Sec. 166.049) states: “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.”

On Friday, January 24, State District Judge R.H. Wallace ordered John Peter Smith Hospital to officially declare Marlise Muñoz dead, setting a deadline of 5:00 p.m. Monday to withdraw life support. Wallace said the law did not apply because “Mrs. Munoz is deceased,” reported the Dallas Morning News. The hospital complied approximately 29 hours before the deadline set by the judge.

On the day the judge ordered the end of life support, the hospital said tests indicated that the pre-born baby was 22 weeks and 5 days old.

In the August 23, 2010 issue of Pediatrics, Dr. Barbara J. Stoll and her colleagues presented data indicating that a baby’s chance for survival outside the womb increased from six percent at 22 weeks to 92 percent at 28 weeks. The majority of infants of 24 weeks or greater survive.

While little has been reported about the possibility of doctors making an attempt to save the life of the unborn Muñoz baby, Heather King and Jessica Janicek, attorneys for the woman’s husband, Erick Muñoz, issued a statement in January that the baby was “distinctly abnormal.”

“The fetus suffers from hydrocephalus [water on the brain]. It also appears that there are further abnormalities, including a possible heart problem, that cannot be specifically determined due to the immobile nature of Mrs. Muñoz’s deceased body,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted the statement saying.

The Star-Telegram also cited a study published in 2010 by a team of researchers in Heidelberg, Germany, who had reviewed medical literature from 1982 to 2010 and found 19 cases where a pregnant woman was declared brain-dead. In 12 of the 19 cases, a viable baby was delivered and survived the postnatal period.

“Depending on maternal stability and fetal growth, the decision [to administer life support to the mother] must be made on an individual basis,” the study noted. 

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