Pregnant Woman Still on Life Support in Texas As Family Fights To Pull Plug
Exactly one month after Erick Munoz found his wife Marlise unconscious and brain-dead at home, the saga continues. The pregnant woman is being kept on life support against her family's wishes thanks to a Texas law that claims to be protecting her unborn child. It states that life-sustaining treatment can't be withheld from a pregnant woman, regardless of anyone's wishes — effectively taking a woman's body out of her family's control and putting it into the state's possession. Munoz is now 18 weeks along; an unwitting ward of the state.
As Bustle reported, Munoz's family is against keeping her on life support.
"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
But even if her family had signed an advanced directive, Munoz would still be in the hospital: One of the DNR's provisions states, "I understand that under Texas law this Directive has no effect if I have been diagnosed as pregnant."
The fate of the fetus inside Munoz is uncertain. Although it has a normal heartbeat, the time it spent without oxygen while Munoz was brain-dead could have interfered significantly with its own brain development. No one will know anything more certain for another six weeks — at this early stage, it's hard to discover potential health issues.
The scenario is poised to become one of the year's biggest bioethics questions: how much reach should a government have into the lives of its citizens? In this case, a private body has become a public one — as it so often happens in Texas with women.
"The state has a compelling interest in preserving the life of its unborn citizens," criminal defense attorney Danny Cevallos told CNN. "And that interest is superior to even the interest of the remaining family that might be charged with raising an ill child."
Is it now? For all the talk from conservatives about 'death panels,' it's interesting that one of the nation's most conservative states has a death panel of its own, demanding life for the brain-dead.
"We're frankly waiting to see how long this lasts," Marlise's mother Lynne Machado said. "There's so much energy just trying to cope with what we see every time we go into ICU. And knowing our daughter is not there, but her body is being kept alive, is hard to see."
Machado said the family isn't looking to hire a lawyer yet — they are exhausted enough already. It is also unlikely that the law will be changed without significant legal challenges.
The emotional strain this is putting on the family is unimaginable. Not to go visit the hospital would be painful. To go visit is painful. For (foreseeably) the next five months, family members will continue to live their lives around a daughter they can't communicate with, a wife and mother who is gone as they know her. And when — and if — the fetus is finished developing for its May due date, Mr. Munoz could face a massive parenting challenge without his partner by his side. Against his wife's wishes.