Report: Pregnant woman kept on life support against husband's wishes

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A man reportedly is fighting a Texas law to get his pregnant wife removed from life support, which he says were her wishes before she was declared brain dead.

Texas man Erick Munoz found his wife Marlise unconscious on their living room floor at 2:00 a.m. on Nov. 26, WFAA in Dallas-Fort Worth reports. Munoz, a paramedic, began CPR and called 911, and his wife -- also a paramedic -- was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. She apparently experienced a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal blood clot.

"You just never think it's going to be you," he told the station.

Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant at the time, so doctors told the family they would provide all life-saving measures to her in order to comply with a rule under the Texas Health and Safety Code

That rule states, "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient."

But, Erick says he and his wife had discussed and mutually agreed upon “do not resuscitate” (DNR) orders, though one was never signed. She has not shown brain activity since, and doctors are unsure how long the fetus was without oxygen and nutrients, so it's unknown whether the fetus is even viable.

"I don't agree with this law... I don't," he said, adding, he doesn’t expect many people to side with him on this.

A hospital spokesperson told CBS News that the facility follows state law.

“Our responsibility at JPS Health Network is to be a good corporate citizen while also providing quality care for our patients,” J.R. Labbe said in an email. “In all cases, JPS will follow the law as it applies to healthcare in the state of Texas. And this specific state law says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withheld or withdrawn from a pregnant patient.”

One bioethicist not involved in the case considers the Texas law both unethical and unconstitutional, arguing it violates individual liberties.

 

 “But trying to mandate that a dead body has to house a fetus for nine months seems to me ethically cruel, and far too great an intrusion into personal liberty,” Dr. Art Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, told CBS News.

Caplan pointed out that it's not certain if this patient is brain dead -- as is the case for the high profile controversy over Jahi McMath, whose family is suing to keep her on a ventilator despite being declared brain dead after complications from tonsil surgery -- or seriously incapacitated, but he's not sure if that should make a difference in this case.

He says that paramedics know as much about resuscitation and DNR orders as any medical professional, and are well-informed enough to make this decision. The Texas law, he adds, does not establish the fetus' viability, or what to do in situations of potentially grave damage to the fetus.  

“I think the law is just flat-out too broad, written too vaguely,” he said.

In May 2012, a Michigan woman declared brain dead gave birth to twins when they were 25 weeks old. The mother had previously suffered an aneurysm rupture.

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