Health Law

Hospital refuses to take patient off life support, despite family wishes, because she is pregnant


A Texas hospital is citing state law in refusing to take a pregnant woman off of life support.

Family members say Marlise Munoz, 33, was declared brain dead by physicians, but hospital officials won’t withdraw life support, despite her previously expressed wishes, because she is pregnant. Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed in November at home, apparently from a blood clot in her lungs. The pregnancy is now at 20 weeks of development. The New York Times has the story.

According to the Times, Munoz’s case “has become a strange collision of law, medicine, the ethics of end-of-life care and the issues swirling around abortion—when life begins and how it should be valued.”

The Times cites a 2012 report that found at least 31 states have laws restricting the ability of doctors to remove life support for terminally ill pregnant women, even when the patient or family has expressed wishes to the contrary. Twelve of the states, including Texas, have the most restrictive laws that require life support regardless of the progression of the pregnancy.

Hospital officials said they don’t have written permission from Munoz’s husband to comment on her condition, but family members told the Times she has been declared brain dead. Ethicists told the Times that if Munoz is brain dead, the Texas law would not require continued treatment.

“The Texas Legislature can’t require doctors to do the impossible and try to treat someone who’s dead,” said Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.

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