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Pregnant woman on life support, husband sues hospital

8:04 AM, Jan 15, 2014   |    comments
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FORT WORTH - A Haltom City man has filed a lawsuit against John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth in an effort to remove his pregnant wife from life support.

In the lawsuit, Erick Muñoz's lawyers claim keeping 33-year-old Marlise Muñoz on life support is against her Fourteenth Amendment right since she told loved ones she didn't want to be kept alive by a machine.

"The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall 'deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law," the suit reads. "The principle that a competent person has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in making decisions regarding their own body began at common law."

The lawsuit further states since Mrs. Muñoz is brain dead, she "cannot possibly be a 'pregnant patient.'"

On the morning of Nov. 26, Mr. Muñoz found his wife unconscious on the floor of the couple's kitchen. Mr. Muñoz said later that day he was told by doctors at JPS Hospital that his wife - 14 weeks pregnant with the couple's second child - was brain dead.

Doctors told Mrs. Muñoz's family they suspect she suffered a pulmonary embolism.

Since then, Mr. Muñoz has been in a battle with JPS Hospital to remove his wife from life support. While tests on his wife's fetus show a normal heartbeat, Mr. Muñoz said it was against his wife's wishes to be kept alive by a machine.

"Erick Muñoz vehemently opposes any further medical treatment to be undertaken on the deceased body of his wife," read the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Tarrant County.

However, officials at JPS Hospital say it would be against the law to remove Mrs. Muñoz from life support based on Section 1666.049 of the Texas Health and Safety Code.

"A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient," the code reads.

However, in the suit, Muñoz's lawyers cite Section 671.001 of the Texas Health and Safety Code:
"(a) A person is dead when, according to ordinary standards of medical
practice, there is irreversible cessation of the person's spontaneous respiratory and
circulatory functions...
(b) If artificial means of support preclude a determination that a
person's spontaneous respiratory and circulatory functions have ceased, the person is
dead when, in the announced opinion of a physician, according to ordinary standards of
medical practice, there is irreversible cessation of all spontaneous brain function. Death occurs when the relevant functions cease."

"In the alternative, Section 166.049 is unconstitutional as applied to Marlise as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States," the suit reads.

Both paramedics, the couple had extensive talks about life support, Mr. Muñoz said.

Mrs. Muñoz's parents have backed up her husband's efforts to remove their daughter from life support.

"There was a lot of twinkle in our eyes and a lot of smiles and laughter, and not anymore," said Lynne Machado, Marlise's mother, in a News 8 report on Jan. 8. "It's just barely getting through the day."

Munoz declined to comment on the suit, but he has previously expressed anguish at losing his wife and his inability to fulfill her wish that she not be kept alive in such a state.

"It's hard to reach the point where you wish your wife's body would stop," he said. "'I'm aware of the challenges that might be ahead."

The CEO of JPS, Robert Earley, spoke in general terms to Tarrant County commissioners on Tuesday morning.

"We deal with challenging situations every day," he said. "Some are more high profile."

The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office is representing JPS. Both parties declined to comment. The Munoz family said doctors will perform tests at 24 weeks to determine the viability of the fetus and the mother's ability to continue the pregnancy.

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