A Fort Worth, Texas, hospital says it has no choice but to keep a pregnant woman on life support until the fetus she is carrying can be delivered, something her family says goes against her end-of-life directives.
Marlise Munoz collapsed in her home on November 26 when she was 14 weeks pregnant, and has been hospitalized and on life support ever since.
Her husband, Erick Munoz, told local new outlet WFAA that he and his wife, who are both paramedics, had talked specifically about not wanting “to be kept alive by machine.” But because of Marlise Munoz’s pregnancy, that decision has now been made for them by the State of Texas. According to state statute, “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.”
J.R. Labbe, a spokesperson for John Peter Smith Hospital (JPS), the county hospital where Munoz is being kept on life support, told RH Reality Check via email, “Our responsibility is to be a good corporate citizen while also providing quality care for our patients.” Labbe added that there has “not been a case with similar circumstances” anywhere previously in the hospital network.
“Advance directives are governed by state law,” she said. “At all times, JPS will follow the law as it applies to healthcare in the state of Texas.”
Labbe was unable to estimate the cost of Munoz’s hospitalization in the coming months, calling it a “secondary issue to providing the best care we can for the patient.”
In the Munoz case, that “best care,” as defined in a 1989 state law, does not align with what Munoz herself wanted. According to WFAA, the Munoz family would have to secure an injunction or court order to be able to carry out Marlise Munoz’s final wishes.
Erick Munoz, who has a toddler-age son with his wife, told WFAA that he doesn’t agree with the law, and that he worries about the health of the fetus his wife is carrying. According to Munoz, it will be mid-February before doctors can make another determination about the fetus’ health and when it might be delivered. “They don’t know how long the baby was without nutrients and oxygen,” he told WFAA. “But I’m aware what challenges I might face ahead.”
The fire department where Munoz works has been collecting diapers, supplies, and money for Munoz since early December, and because of the outpouring of support, they’re now asking solely for financial contributions to help the family.
According to a preliminary analysis, at least 23 states, including Texas, do not authorize either the patient or the patient’s agent to withhold life-sustaining care if the patient is pregnant.