Health/Science
8:00 am
Mon January 27, 2014

Marlise Muñoz Has Been Removed From Life Support, Family Says

Marlise Muñoz, the North Texas woman who was brain dead and pregnant, has been removed from life support, her family said Sunday.

And now, after two months of visiting his wife in the hospital, Erick Muñoz can proceed with laying her body to rest.

The KERA Radio Story

The months-long saga began Thanksgiving week, when Marlise Muñoz collapsed at her home in Haltom City. When her husband found her, she wasn’t breathing. Erick, a paramedic, resuscitated her and called 911.

Two days later, she was brain dead.

When Muñoz collapsed, she was 14 weeks pregnant, and already the mother of a toddler, Mateo.

Like her husband, Marlise Muñoz was in the business of saving lives. She, too, was a paramedic.

Erick Muñoz said the two had discussed what to do if either fell into a vegetative state. Marlise, he said, was clear she would want to be removed from life support.

And that might have happened – if it weren’t for the fact that Marlise Muñoz was pregnant.

John Peter Smith hospital in Fort Worth refused to disconnect Muñoz from a ventilator and other machines, saying it was following a Texas law preventing the removal of a pregnant patient from life-sustaining treatment.

At a court hearing on Friday, the attorney for JPS told a judge the hospital had a legal responsibility to protect the fetus.

Attorneys for the Muñoz family accused the hospital of conducting a science experiment.

During the hearing, Erick Muñoz was in tears. In his affidavit, he describes the pain of visiting his wife.

“When I bend down to kiss her forehead, her usual scent is gone, replaced instead by with what I can only describe as the smell of death,” he said in the affidavit.

District Judge R.H. Wallace sided with the family, and ordered Marlise Muñoz to be removed from life support by 5 p.m. Monday.

The hospital released a statement Sunday saying it would comply with the court’s order.

Later, attorneys for the Muñoz family released their own statement, saying the family can complete "an unbearably long and arduous journey."

Original story: The family of Marlise Muñoz, the North Texas woman who was brain dead and pregnant, said Sunday that she has been removed from life support.

A statement sent Sunday afternoon by lawyers for Muñoz's husband says she was disconnected from life support about 11:30 a.m., The Associated Press reports.

It says her body was released to her husband, Erick Muñoz.

The family "will now proceed with the somber task of laying Marlise Muñoz's body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered" and can complete "an unbearably long and arduous journey," the statement says.

The development comes after a state district judge ruled Friday that John Peter Smith Hospital must remove Muñoz from life support by 5 p.m. Monday.

John Peter Smith Hospital announced Sunday morning that it would comply with a judge’s order to remove Muñoz, who was 22 weeks pregnant, from life support.

Sunday’s statement from the Fort Worth hospital states:

“The past eight weeks have been difficult for the Munoz family, the caregivers and the entire Tarrant County community, which found itself involved in a sad situation. JPS Health Network has followed what we believed were the demands of a state statute. From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it. On Friday, a state district judge ordered the removal of life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Munoz. The hospital will follow the court order.”

Friday’s court ruling comes after John Peter Smith Hospital declared publicly for the first time that Muñoz has been brain dead since late November. The hospital also says the fetus inside Muñoz is "not viable."

For weeks, hospital officials had said she isn’t dead and that her condition is serious.

In a court filing last week, the hospital stated that Muñoz met the clinical criteria for brain death on Nov. 28, two days after she was found unconscious at her Haltom City home.

Marlise Muñoz's husband, Erick, sued the hospital to have her removed from life support. He has said he and his wife are paramedics who agreed they would not want life support in this situation. Last week, attorneys for Erick Muñoz released a statement describing the fetus as "distinctly abnormal," with heart problems, deformed lower extremities and hydrocephalus, or water on the brain.

Hospital officials have said Texas law prohibits them from following Marlise Muñoz's wishes because she is pregnant. John Peter Smith Hospital has refused to disconnect Muñoz from life-support machines, citing the Texas Advance Directives Act concerning end-of-life care. It includes this provision: "A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient."

Read more about the issue here.