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Man Sues Fort Worth Hospital To Have Pregnant Wife Taken Off Life Support

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Marlise Munoz, right, has been on life support since November. Her husband, Erick, is on the left.

The husband of a pregnant North Texas woman on life support is suing the hospital to have her removed from life support.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in state district court asks a judge to order John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth to remove life support for Marlise Muñoz, a Haltom City woman who fell unconscious in November while pregnant.

KERA’s Lauren Silverman spoke with SMU Law professor and medical ethicist Tom Mayo.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of a hospital insisting on treatment over the objection of a family,” he says. “It is more of an ethical issue than a legal issue I think.”

Mayo says it is not illegal for a doctor to withdraw life support on a pregnant patient in Texas.

Erick Muñoz, Marlise's husband, says a doctor at the hospital told him his wife is considered brain-dead. Munoz and his wife are paramedics who agreed they would not want life support in this situation.

But hospital officials say Texas law prohibits them from following Marlise Muñoz's wishes because she is pregnant. The hospital has said she isn’t dead and that her condition is serious.

The lawsuit accuses the hospital of misapplying the law because Muñoz is legally considered dead.

The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office, which is representing the hospital in the lawsuit, said it became aware of the suit just before noon Tuesday and will file a response. The office said in a statement that it would have no comment on the suit.

The lawsuit states that the Muñoz family expressed to each other, as well as to family members and friends, their desires not to be resuscitated should either become brain dead.

In November, Erick Muñoz found his wife unconscious on her kitchen floor. She was about 14 weeks pregnant with her second child.

At John Peter Smith Hospital, doctors informed Erick Muñoz that his wife had “lost all activity in her brain stem, and was for all purposes brain dead," the suit states.

Erick Muñoz also saw “brain dead” listed in writing in her medical charts.

“Erick has been informed by JPS, and from that information believes, that Marlise is brain dead,” the lawsuit states.

The suit states that despite her being brain dead, the hospital has placed her on a respirator. A doctor told the family she couldn’t be taken off life support since the state doesn’t allow doctors to cut off life support to pregnant patients.

Lawsuit filed by Erick Munoz against John Peter Smith Hospital by KERANews

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees keranews.org, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.