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Texas judge orders brain-dead pregnant woman off life support

Larry W. Smith / EPA

Erick Munoz, center, walks into the Tarrant County Courthouse with his attorneys Friday in Fort Worth, Texas.

A judge ordered a Texas hospital Friday to remove Marlise Munoz, who is pregnant and brain dead, from life support after the hospital acknowledged that her fetus isn't viable.

Tarrant County District Judge R.H. Wallace gave John Peter Smith Hospital of Fort Worth until 6 p.m. ET Monday to disconnect Munoz, 33, from her ventilator, as her husband, Erick, has demanded since November.


Lawyers for the Tarrant County district attorney's office, which defended the hospital, wouldn't comment when asked whether they would appeal the ruling.

Heather King, an attorney for the Munoz family, told reporters: "There's nothing happy about today. It's a sad situation all the way around. We are relieved that Erick Munoz can move forward with the process of burying his wife."

In a statement, JPS Health Network, the hospital's parent company, said it "appreciates the potential impact of the consequences of the order on all parties involved and will be consulting with the Tarrant County District Attorney's office."

The hospital had argued as recently as Thursday that even though Munoz has been brain dead since Nov. 28, withdrawing her from life support "would cause the death of the unborn child."

Courtesy KC Studios Photography

Erick and Marlise Munoz hold their son Mateo.

But in a joint affidavit stipulating the facts of the case filed shortly before Friday's hearing, it said that "at the time of this hearing, the fetus gestating inside Mrs. Munoz is not viable."

The hospital had also pointed to a state law that says life-sustaining support can't be withdrawn or withheld from a pregnant person, presumably to "protect the unborn child against the wishes of a decision maker who would terminate the child's life along with the mother's."

In his ruling, Wallace wrote that the law didn't apply because "Mrs. Munoz is dead."

Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed in November from what doctors believe was a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot in the lung. The fetus is now at about 22 weeks' gestation.

Erick Munoz said in an amended motion filed Thursday that his wife was legally dead, and to further conduct surgical procedures on a deceased body is nothing short of outrageous."


Further complicating Wallace's decision was a statement by Munoz's attorneys this week that they had medical records showing that the fetus was "distinctly abnormal."

There's very little case law over the Texas statute, and Wallace's ruling didn't shed any new light. He wrote that because the law didn't apply in this case, he didn't need to rule on any of the constitutional arguments Erick Munoz had made.

Wallace was hearing the case after Judge Melody Wilkinson recused herself last week when state election and ethics records showed that her campaign treasurer is also general counsel for JPS Health Network, the hospital's parent company.

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