Texas Law Forces Pregnant Woman To Stay on Life Support Against Family's Wishes

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Here is the sad situation: a Texas man wants his wife taken off life support. But Erick Munoz's wife, Marlise, is 18 weeks pregnant. In Texas, where the couple lives, it is illegal to interfere with the life of a child when the mother is on life support. And so Marlise is being forced to stay on life support machines by Texas law — against her next of kin's wishes.

Of course, Munoz says he did not approach this decision lightly. After finding Marlise unconscious Nov. 26, he rushed her to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where she has remained unresponsive. Doctors suspect she suffered a pulmonary embolism.

"You just never think it's going to be you," Munoz says. "It's hard to reach the point where you wish your wife's body would stop."

Even though they never officially signed a Do Not Resuscitate form, Munoz says the couple had discussed life support after Marlise's brother died eight years ago. Munoz says Marlise never wanted a machine to keep her alive. The couple, who already have a 1-year-old, worked as paramedics and saw firsthand the struggles that life-or-death situations pose for different patients.

"We knew what her wishes were," Munoz says.

Even if they had signed a DNR form, Texas law still mandates that a pregnant woman be kept alive for the baby's sake. And if Marlise's family filed an injunction, experts say it would be unlikely that a judge would override the law. The state's Health and Safety Code is very clear-cut, stating: "A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient."

Doctors say the baby still has a normal heartbeat, and they will know more about its health after tests can be performed in mid-February. But Munoz is worried that his child's brain development will be stunted. He also says even though his wishes are unpopular with some people, he doesn't this decision to spiral into a pro-life/pro-choice battle.

"They don't know how long the baby was without nutrients and oxygen," Munoz says. "But I'm aware what challenges I might face ahead."

At least 22 other states require pregnant women to be hooked up to life support if a fetus can be saved.