Munuz Case Update
After a judge ruled that a Texas hospital was misapplying the state law that makes a pregnant woman's living will invalid, Marlise Nicole Munoz was finally removed from a ventilator on January 26, 2014. The ruling ended a sad saga in which she had been admitted unconscious on November 26, 2013, when she was 14 weeks pregnant, and was determined to be brain-dead two days later. The issue arose because of the law in Texas which does not permit a pregnant woman to be removed from life support despite her family's wishes or her end of life directives.
After an emergency hearing, the judge ruled that this law didn't apply to a dead person. Keeping a fetus alive in a corpse in considered medical experimentation. The court found that hospital was applying the law in a way that wasn't intended by the legislature.
Now that the decision has been made, questions remain including what to do with the costs incurred during the weeks Mrs. Munoz was in the hospital. Her family has been receiving bills from the hospital even though they expressed repeatedly their desire to remove the life support. They argue there was no consent to care. The hospital has been sharply attacked in the court of public opinion for asking the family to pay astronomical costs for unwanted and unnecessary treatment.
Mr. Munoz's lawyers had argued that the law violated Mrs. Munoz's 14th Amendment rights to make decisions about he own body, and asked the judge to declare the Texas law unconstitutional. However, the judge avoided making a ruling on the law's constitutionality. After ruling that the law wasn't applicable to a dead person, the judge said he wouldn't rule on the constitutionality of the law since it didn't apply to her.
Therefore, the unsettled issues remain in the hands of the hospital and legislature. Many are outraged at the hospital's practices and urging that they not add to the family's grief by saddling them with a huge debt for unwanted treatment. There is also public outcry for the legislature to change a law now viewed as arcane.
These issues and debates raise our attention to the need to be clear about our end of life decisions. Therefore it is recommended to include a statement in your living will regarding your medical treatment preferences in the event of your pregnancy. A living will is an essential life document to have prepared, even if you live in a state that has a law which could override the living will of a pregnant woman.