It has now been almost two months since Marlise Munoz was found in her kitchen in Texas, rushed to the hospital, and eventually declared brain dead, but despite the pleas of her husband and family, she is still hooked up to a ventilator that keeps her heart beating at the request of a hospital trying to keep her body functioning in order to get the fetus she is carrying to viability.
The Munoz case has grown increasingly heartbreaking in the weeks that have passed. Just barely passed the first trimester, the requests of her husband and her parents to remove her body from life support have gone ignored, while the hospital argued that they are simply following a Texas law declaring “life sustaining treatment” can’t be withdrawn from a pregnant person.
Erick Munoz, her husband, says she never wanted to be on life support for any reason, and her parents agree. Unable to convince the hospital that they are acting not in accordance with the law but instead against her direct wishes, they have retained lawyers and filed a suit demanding she be detached from support and her body given to them so that they may have a proper funeral and mourn the woman they love and the mother of a small child.
Like the case of Jahi McMath in California, Munoz has been declared brain dead with no hope of any recovery possible. Her heart beats only because a respirator forces her body to breathe. There is no brain activity at all, and even with the machines, necessary bodily functions will eventually shut down on their own given enough time.
That’s the crux of the case that was debated Friday: is Marlise a pregnant patient, or a dead body? “There’s the fact issue: Is she dead? And then there’s a legal issue: If she’s dead, what does Texas law require the hospital to do?” Alex Wilson Albright, senior lecturer at the University of Texas School of Law, told the Dallas News.
The situation becomes even more complicated once the the condition of the fetus is considered. At 22 weeks, it is still a few weeks from viability at the least, meaning that at this point there is no potential for it to survive after a delivery even under the best of conditions.
However, the Munoz fetus already faces serious medical complications beyond being too undeveloped for delivery. Potentially due to the drugs given in an attempt to save Marlise’s life when she first arrived at the hospital, the fetus has a number of anomalies, ranging from hydrocephalus to a potential heart problem, to lower extremities so deformed that they cannot determine the fetus’ sex. There is no indication at this point that it will be able to survive after its birth even if it does make it to viability.
For anti-choice extremists, though, even that fact isn’t enough to dampen their enthusiasm for keeping Marlise’s dead body on a ventilator for as long as her heart continues to beat, and then cut the body open to remove the fetus and care for it for however long it manages to draw a breath.
Referring to the deformities and abnormalities as “medical issues,” Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue, said in a statement that “numerous people have expressed an interest in adopting the Munoz baby even if he or she has special needs.” Newman indicated that there would be abortion opponents at the Friday hearing to determine whether or not Marlise should be removed from all medical support.
Will Marlise and her family’s wishes finally prevail? After the most recent tests, the hospital is now admitting the fetus is not viable, and after Friday’s hearing a judge has determined the hospital must remove her from life support by 5 p.m. Monday evening.
Friday’s hearing may have settled things for good for the Munoz family, but it won’t address the fact that regardless of what happens there, the state still has a troubling law that requires pregnant people to be kept on life support, overriding her directives or that of her family. Marlise and her family should now receive justice, but until the law is changed, another Munoz case can always be in the wings.
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