Marlise Munoz lays in a hospital on a ventilator, unlikely to ever regain consciousness, after a likely pulmonary embolism. Her husband, Erick, says she would not want to be left on life support. Her family agrees with him. In fact, no one who knows her has any doubt that she would want to be let go. The hospital, however, says no.
Marlise is pregnant. Texas law says she has to stay alive long enough to give birth.
The story of Marlise Munoz and her family is a tragic one, where a married couple with a small toddler who were expecting their second child finds their joy cut tragically short due to an unforeseen health issue. The Munozs, who are both in the health profession, had often discussed what they would do if in this sort of situation where they were dependent on life support and had prepared each other for their decision if such a thing were to occur. However, no one could have expected that the wishes of Marlise could be overruled by the state simply because, by virtue of being pregnant, Texas claims to have vested interest in continuing the “life” of the fetus in her womb.
“We have a responsibility as a good corporate citizen here in Tarrant County to also provide the highest quality care we can for all of our patients,” J.R. Labbe, vice president of communications and community affairs for JPS Health Network, which is caring for Marlise Munoz, said in a statement to CNN news about the case. “But at all times, we will follow the law as it is applicable to health care in the state of Texas. And state law here says you cannot withhold or withdraw life sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient. It’s that clear.”
Ms. Munoz is not even halfway through her pregnancy, and the family and doctors are unsure whether or not her fetus was affected by her embolism, including the time that she spent without oxygen before she was brought to the hospital and resuscitated. Medical professionals can only say at this point that the fetus has a strong heartbeat, and that they will do more tests at 24 weeks — a point perhaps purposefully set after Texas’s new later abortion ban, which has no exceptions for a fetus with medical deficiencies.
For Mr. Munoz, that means weeks more of his wife left on life support, which she was adamantly opposed to, and then learning whether the hospital will remove the fetus once it reaches viability, or continue the pregnancy another few months to full term. In other words, the hospital is literally keeping her alive as an incubator until the hospital chooses to deliver the Munoz’s child, with or without the family’s consent.
Abortion opponents find the situation not only completely reasonable, but laud the state for overruling the woman and her family’s wishes.
“Good for Texas and good for little Junior,” declares Personhood USA, an activist group hoping to ban all abortion and hormonal contraception. “Obviously, the woman should continue receiving life support until her baby is born. Sadly, Junior may one day learn that his father wanted him dead.”
Texas isn’t alone when it comes to denying the medical wishes of a pregnant person or her family when it comes to ending life support. According to the Center for Women Policy Studies, 14 states will force someone to remain on live support if it is “probable” that the pregnancy will result in a live birth if left alone: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.
Should the state’s “interests” in producing a live birth override the family, who wants to remove Ms. Munoz from life support and begin the grieving process? Even if you believe that it isn’t harming anyone to keep Ms. Munoz alive, the precedent it sets is quite frightening. Attorneys speaking about the case to WFAA.com told the station that “[I]t’s unlikely a mother’s wishes would be allowed to override a child’s potential.”
In other words, a pregnant person’s desires will always come second to whatever is necessary to ensure a potential embryo or fetus is born. That is a truly chilling thought for anyone who values a living person’s rights.
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