The country watched earlier this year as a tragedy unfolded publicly for the Munoz family in Texas. Eric, a father and husband, watched as his wife and the mother of his young toddler suffered a medical catastrophe, was rushed to the hospital and declared brain dead, then saw the hospital fight to keep her on life support despite her own and her family’s wishes that she not have her body kept functioning artificially. At the center of the debate was a fetus, just out of the first trimester, that the hospital had declared was a life that had to be protected and kept growing inside this woman’s body, despite being declared officially dead, in the hopes that the hospital could keep it gestating until it was far enough along to deliver.
The battle pitted hospital against family, politicians against doctors, and even reverberated into the Texas Republican primaries where “would you have kept Marlize on life support” became the code phrase for proving how “pro-life” and babies-above-all a candidate was on the political spectrum. For the Munoz family, the ordeal ended when a judge ruled Marlize’s body could be removed from life support and she could be laid to rest. Now, however, the repercussions of that fight is beginning to be felt in other states.
Louisiana has been bold in its legislative attempts to remake the state. A bill that has already passed the house could close almost all abortion clinics in the state, and lawmakers are spending their political time and capital on arguments like whether the King James Bible should be the official state book.
Now, they are entering the fray on taking away the family’s ability to make end of life decisions. In an attempt to address exactly the type of situation that occurred in Texas, the Louisiana legislature is reviewing a bill to make it illegal for hospitals to remove a pregnant person from life support, even if that is the express wish of the pregnant person and family.
“We have a responsibility to that unborn child, to give that unborn child a chance,” said Rep. Austin Badon, who is sponsoring the bill, which has already made it through committee and will be moving to the full house for a vote. Another lawmaker, Rep. Jay Morris, agreed, according to the Associated Press, stating that “while concerns for the mother were understandable, ‘We need to look at the child.’”
Although the bill is set explicitly to take away the rights of the families when it comes to making medical end of life decisions about pregnant people, the bill also denotes the slippery slope that lawmakers are prepared to go down when it comes to end of life care for all people. After all, if it’s a legislative body’s prerogative to veto family preference in a situation with a technically dead person and an unborn fetus, what is to stop them from next refusing to allow a patient who is alive but unable to function or recover from being removed from life support, since that is also a life deserving of every chance in the eyes of many politicians?
When we create laws that allow one instance in which the decisions of a doctor and patient can be overruled by a political majority, we take medical autonomy from all people, not just those in the situation presented in the original bill. The resulting precedent — that there are times in which a lawmaker knows better than a patient, that patient’s family, and the medical best practices and standards of care provided by the physician who has worked with them — is one that reverberates not just through reproductive care and end of life decisions but throughout the medical system, setting up doctors and patients as adversaries rather than partners in care.
Republicans swear they want less government interference in medical decisions. Why are they so intent then on making the medical decisions for their own constituents?
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