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Texas hospital ends life support for brain-dead pregnant woman

life support
life support

By Jana J. Pruet

FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas hospital removed a pregnant brain-dead woman from life support on Sunday in line with a court order obtained by her husband who argued the fetus she was carrying was withering inside her lifeless body, the family's lawyers said.

Marlise Munoz, who was about 22 weeks pregnant, had been on life support in the hospital in Fort Worth since November 26 after suffering what her husband believes was a pulmonary embolism.

Erick Munoz had sought to remove his wife from life support, with the support of her parents, but the hospital had refused, citing a Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn or withheld from a pregnant woman despite a "do not resuscitate" order or a request from the family.

A judge on Friday agreed with Erick Munoz in finding that Marlise Munoz was already legally dead and ordering the John Peter Smith Hospital to remove her ventilator, setting a Monday deadline.

Heather King, a lawyer for the Munoz family, said in a statement on Sunday that life support had been removed and Marlise Munoz's body released to her husband, who had found her unconscious on the kitchen floor when she was 14 weeks pregnant and rushed her to the hospital.

"May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey," the lawyer's statement said, adding the family would now proceed "with the somber task of laying Marlise Munoz's body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered."

In seeking to have Munoz disconnected from life support, lawyers for the family had argued that she was clinically dead, could no longer be considered a pregnant woman and that the fetus she was carrying was severely damaged.

The couple are both paramedics and had previously agreed that they do not wish to be kept on life support, Erick Munoz said. Attorneys for Munoz have said the parents of Marlise agreed with her husband's request to turn off the ventilator.

The lawyers also provided medical records they said show that the fetus suffered from oxygen deprivation and appears to have deformed lower extremities.

JPS Health Network, which runs the hospital, said it could not confirm that it had withdrawn life support, citing privacy policy. The hospital had said earlier that it would remove "life-sustaining" treatment, but did not say when it would act.

Lawyers for the hospital had argued they were complying with a law that was intended to protect unborn children.

"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," the hospital's statement said.

Tom Mayo, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who helped write the Texas law, said that he believed the hospital had misapplied it in the Munoz case.

Mayo said that changes in the law will likely be discussed before the Texas state legislature meets next year but added: "I'm not persuaded that the statute really needs to be fixed."

In July, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law tough new restrictions on abortion, including a ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy, marking one of the biggest victories in a decade for opponents of the procedure in the United States.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Edith Honan, Bernard Orr)

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