Brain-Dead Marlise Munoz’s Fetus Is “Distinctly Abnormal.” Please, Texas, Let This Nightmare End.

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Jan. 23 2014 12:11 PM

Brain-Dead Marlise Munoz’s Fetus Is “Distinctly Abnormal.” Please, Texas, Let This Nightmare End.

Marlise Munoz has been brain dead since Nov. 26, and the suffering of her family can only be getting worse. Munoz was found unconscious on her kitchen floor in November, probably because of a blood clot in her lungs. At the time she was 14 weeks pregnant. Ever since, she has been kept “alive” with a ventilator because the hospital where she was taken, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, believes it must not withdraw “life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant patient, based on a Texas law that so mandates. And now, lawyers for Erick Munoz, her husband, say that the fetus that his brain-dead wife has been kept on life support to carry is “distinctly abnormal.”

Erick and Marlise’s parents say she would never have wanted this outcome: She was a paramedic who understood end-of-life issues. She and Erick, also a paramedic, have a 15-month-old son. He is seeking a peaceful end for his wife as a parent as well as her husband. Yet somehow, despite her family’s wishes, Marlise’s body is being kept on life support because it is still host to a fetus, now at about 22 weeks, that his lawyers say has fluid building up inside the skull, a possible heart problem, and lower extremities “deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined.”

How can the state supersede the wishes of Erick in this scenario? The answer is that it can’t. 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.

Advertisement

So Marlise remains hooked up because the hospital is misreading Texas law. NYU bioethicist Arthur Caplan laid this out last week, explaining why the hospital is misinterpreting the law (and also why that law must be unconstitutional). “The fact that the fetus apparently has significant abnormalities shows just how awful, misguided and cruel the Texas law is,” he emailed me Thursday morning. “The uncertainties about the pregnancy—damaged fetus, almost no cases of trying to bring a 14-week-old to term in this circumstance, what he the dad is able to cope with, his dead wife’s wishes about wanting to have a child if she cannot parent, the massive costs involved and the impact of a tragic outcome on his other child—they point clearly in the direction of who should be making the decisions and who should have been making them all along. Not the hospital, not the legislature, not pro-life or pro-choicers—the husband.”

Erick is suing the hospital with a hearing scheduled for Friday. There is a precedent in Texas for withdrawing treatment from a brain-dead pregnant woman—Tammy Martin, the subject of a monthlong court battle in 1999—but in that case, the fetus was also dead. Still, any judge, whatever his politics, should follow that ruling and give Erick the right to respect his wife’s wishes. And the judge should act fast, because the fetus is approaching the point of viability, which will make the situation much more difficult. This family has suffered so much already. No state, and no hospital, should invade this deeply personal sphere of heartbreak.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.