Judge Orders End to Life Support for Brain-Dead, Pregnant Woman in Texas

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 24 2014 5:46 PM

Judge Orders End to Life Support for Brain-Dead, Pregnant Woman in Texas

A Texas judge on Friday granted a request from the family of a brain-dead pregnant woman asking that she be taken off life support and allowed to die. District Judge R.H. Wallace's ruling brings an apparent end to a nearly two-month ordeal that began when Marlise Munoz, then 14 weeks pregnant, was found unconscious on her kitchen floor, most likely due to a blood clot in her lungs. (I say apparent end because the judge gave the hospital until 5 p.m. central time Monday to execute his order, according to the Associated Press, so I can't completely rule out another twist or turn before then.)

For those who haven't been following this story closely, here's the Cliff Notes: Munoz was placed on life support upon arriving at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, where doctors have since been using a ventilator to keep her "alive." Munoz's husband, Erick, a paramedic, told the court that she had previously made it clear that she would have never wanted to be kept alive in her current condition—she was also a paramedic, one who understood end-of-life issues better than most. Erick Munoz's requests, however, went unheeded by hospital officials, who claimed that they were bound by a state law that bans the withdrawal of treatment from a patient who is pregnant—despite the fact that Munoz's fetus, now estimated to be at about 22 weeks' gestation, was in her husband's words "distinctly abnormal."

Most legal experts who had weighed in prior to today's ruling had sided with Munoz, arguing that the Texas hospital had misreadt he state law that may itself be unconstitutional. As Emily Bazelon explained on XX Factor earlier this week: "Hospitals cannot provide 'life-sustaining treatment' to a person who is dead, and that’s what brain dead means: death. This is not the same as being in a vegetative state, where you can breathe without a respirator. In all 50 states, brain dead means you are legally dead."

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.