Brain-Dead Woman Forced to Stay on Life Support Because She’s Pregnant

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Jan. 6 2014 10:23 AM

Brain-Dead Woman Forced to Stay on Life Support Because She’s Pregnant

Taking a family member off life support is never an easy decision, but it's what Erick Munoz believes his wife, Marlise, who worked as a paramedic, wanted. Marlise collapsed right before Thanksgiving, likely because of a blood clot in her lungs, and was pronounced brain dead from lack of oxygen at the hospital. Her family wants to remove the ventilator keeping her body alive, but there's a hitch. Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant at the time of her collapse. Texas, where the Munozes live, is one of the 12 states in the country that forbids removing a woman from life support if she is pregnant

Marlise Munoz and her husband are just the latest victims caught in the crossfire of abortion politics. Mandating that pregnant women stay on life support regardless of their wishes is a neat and easy way to establish the claim that the state has an interest in fetal life, even at the earliest stages, that overrides a pregnant woman's basic human rights. After all, brain death during pregnancy is incredibly rare, making these laws more symbolic in nature than pragmatic. If your goal is to legally enshrine the notion that pregnant women are incubators first and humans second, keeping their bodies alive to grow babies long after their minds are gone is a perfect way to do it. 

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Of course, rare doesn't mean impossible, as Marlise Munoz's family is discovering. "All we want is to let her rest, to let her go to sleep," Munoz's father, Ernest Machado, told the Dallas Morning News. "What they’re doing serves no purpose." The family reasonably fears that the loss of oxygen that was enough to destroy Marlise Munoz's brain probably did serious damage to her fetus.

To make it worse, by going public with their story, Munoz's family is being treated to a heavy dose of vicious anti-choice rhetoric. Erick Munoz has been the subject of ugly speculation online, with anti-choice commenters eagerly suggesting that he simply wants to "get rid" of his wife. The reality, however, is that by holding Marlise Munoz in this state, her family is not being allowed to lay her to rest and start the grieving process properly. Laws like this need to be overturned.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today

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