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Texas judge orders brain-dead pregnant woman to be taken off life support

A judge has ordered a Texas hospital refusing to end life support for a brain-dead, pregnant woman against her and her family’s wishes to remove her from the ventilator by 5 p.m. CT on Monday. 

John Peter Smith Hospital in Forth Worth, Texas, had been arguing that ending care would put them in direct violation of a Texas law that prevents the termination of life support given to pregnant women.

The hospital acknowledged in court documents for the first time on Friday that Marlise Munoz was brain dead and her fetus was not viable,  The Dallas Morning News reported.

The hospital filed a report with the court acknowledging Marlise Munoz met the clinical criteria for brain death on Nov. 28, 2013. Lawyers representing husband Erick Munoz and the hospital also filed a joint document saying that “at the time of this hearing, the fetus gestating inside Mrs. Munoz was not viable.” 

Texas family fights to take pregnant daughter off life support
Attorneys for Erick Munoz said on Wednesday that hospital documents show that the fetus was “distinctly abnormal,” with deformed lower extremities that made it impossible to determine the gender of the fetus. There was also evidence of fluid building up inside the skull and a potential heart problem.

Erick found his wife Marlise unconscious on their living room floor during the early morning of Nov. 26, when she was 14 weeks pregnant. She was rushed to John Peter Smith Hospital, potentially having sustained a fatal blood clot called a pulmonary embolism. It was unclear how long she had been passed out, meaning the fetus could have gone quite some time without oxygen.

The couple were paramedics, and Erick Munoz said they had discussed end of life care and “do not resuscitate” directives. Both he and Marlise's family agreed she did not want to be kept on life support.

However, Texas Health and Safety Code states that "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.” The hospital said that they believe turning off the ventilator would be against the law and cause the death of the fetus. In addition, the hospital said Marlise did not leave a written directive stating what she wanted to be done in this situation.

Erick Munoz sued John Peter Smith Hospital on Jan. 14 in the 17th District Court in Tarrant County, Texas in order to take his wife off life support.

Some legal experts have said they believe that the hospital is misinterpreting the law because under Texas law Marlise is already legally dead. CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford added the issue was complicated because Texas law recognizes “another life (the fetus) is involved with this.”