Expert: Law keeping brain-dead pregnant woman alive is intrusive - Dallas News |

Expert: Law keeping brain-dead pregnant woman alive is intrusive

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A nationally-known medical expert says Texas law is stripping a family of its personal freedoms, and perhaps its money.

The debate continues over a pregnant woman who is being kept on life support against her family's wishes.

About a dozen states have laws similar to Texas, but ethics experts say the case is gaining national attention because this is the first time in recent memory that a family is asking doctors to discontinue life support for a pregnant woman.

With the hospital and family at odds, the case is now headed to court. There, a judge will decide whether Erick Munoz can remove his pregnant wife, Marlise, from life support after a blood clot in her lung left her, according to her family, brain-dead.                         

Munoz has filed a lawsuit ordering John Peter Smith Hospital to discontinue life support -- something he says his wife would have wanted.     

But the hospital says Texas law won't allow it because she is pregnant.

Attorney Jessica Frankland, who is not affiliated with the case, says it's hard to predict what the judge will do.

"The hospital is obviously citing the section that says that a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment from pregnant patient,'" said Frankland. "The family, on the other hand, is arguing a different section, which, they say defines Ms. Munoz as being legally dead."

New York University medical ethicist Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., says Texas law intrudes too much into personal choice and strips the Munoz family of its freedoms.

"We don't know that this fetus is healthy," said Caplan. "When the mom underwent her tragic accident, her misfortune that left her without oxygen and either killed her or left her severely brain injured, it very well could have caused severe harm to the fetus."

John Peter Smith Hospital is being represented by the Tarrant County District Attorney's office.

"I would argue that we need to wait until that 24th week to determine if life support should be discontinued because it's not viable," said Frankland, on what she would do if she were in charge of the case. "Or on the other hand, if it is viable, according to that statute, the hospital has to keep her on life support."

Considering long-term care, Caplan brings up another, less-discussed point.

"When the Texas legislature said, ‘We don't want you to stop,' they didn't say who was paying," he said.

Munoz has already spent almost two months in the hospital, and the cost of keeping her alive increases every day.

"You're talking bills that are in the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars," said Caplan.  

Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed. She is now in her 20th week.

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