Pregnancy & Your Living Will
News Flash: Your wishes in a living will or advance healthcare directive may be disregarded when you're pregnant!
According to a 2012 report from the Center for Women Policy Studies in Washington, 31 states have decided that directives as to life support can be disregard if the patient is pregnant. These state legislatures have passed laws making it illegal to take a woman off of life support if she's pregnant, regardless of the wishes of the patient or her family.
Take for an example the state of Texas. Texas has one of the most restrictive laws, preventing a pregnant woman from being taken off of life support at any stage of pregnancy. Recently, the issue has caused controversy in the case of Marlise Munoz, a 33 year-old Texan who collapsed from a clot in her lungs and was declared brain-dead when she was 14 weeks pregnant.
Legal analysts have questioned the hospital's interpretation of the law, saying that the law was addressed to patients in a coma or vegetative state, and that it wasn't meant to apply to a person who's brain-dead. They have argued that keeping a fetus alive in a basically dead person, as opposed to a person who is in a comma or vegetative state with a chance of recovery, is considered medical experimentation. In the case of Ms. Munoz, the hospital has not officially commented on whether she's brain-dead, but her parents have said the hospital made it clear to them that she is brain-dead.
Pro-life advocates have argued for the fetus to be recognized as a separate person, and want to see Mrs. Munoz kept on life support even if she is brain-dead. But critics of the law point out that Mrs. Munoz's fetus hasn't reached the stage of viability, and is unable to live on its own outside the womb. Due to the uncertainty over how long the fetus was without oxygen, there's also uncertainty over whether the child suffered serious harm. Mrs. Munoz's family wants the law overturned and have expressed anger and frustration with having their rights taken away by the state. As yet, they haven't taken legal action, but also haven't ruled it out. Doctors have said they will decide what to do when the fetus reaches 22 to 24 weeks. In the meantime, the family says waiting increases their agony and frustration at not having input into the decision-making process.
No matter which position you support, all women capable of child-bearing should have a living will that expresses their preferences for life support and medical care in the event they become pregnant. Even if you live in one of the restrictive states, there's always a possibility the law will be changed in the future. Some forms already include language addressing the matter, but other forms can address it by stating your preferences in the blank lines for additional instructions. A living will is a vital form for everyone, not only women, to complete. By taking a matter of minutes to complete the simple form, you can save your family and loved ones the additional agony and expense that the Munoz family and many others have experienced.