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Pregnant, brain-dead woman's husband sues hospital

15 January 2014, 08:40

Dallas - The husband of a pregnant, brain-dead US woman on Tuesday sued the hospital keeping her on life support, saying doctors are doing so against her and her family's wishes.

The lawsuit filed in Texas district court asks a judge to order John Peter Smith Hospital to remove life support for Marlise Munoz, who fell unconscious in November.

But the hospital says a state law prohibits life-saving treatment from being denied to pregnant patients. Experts familiar with the law say the hospital is incorrectly applying the statute.

"Marlise Munoz is dead, and she gave clear instructions to her husband and family - Marlise was not to remain on any type of artificial 'life sustaining treatment', ventilators or the like," the lawsuit says. "There is no reason JPS should be allowed to continue treatment on Marlise Munoz's dead body."

Erick Munoz says he and his wife are both paramedics and are familiar with end-of-life issues. His wife's parents agree.

Munoz found his wife unconscious in the early morning on 26 November. The family says it doesn't know the exact cause of her condition, though a blood clot is a possibility. Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant at the time.

The health of the fetus is unknown. Munoz is believed to have been without oxygen for some time before her husband found her.

A 2010 article in the journal BMC Medicine found 30 cases of brain-dead pregnant women over about 30 years. Of 19 reported results, the journal found 12 in which a viable child was born. It had post-birth data for two years on only six of them - all of whom developed normally, according to the journal.

The hospital has cited a provision of the Texas Advance Directives Act that reads: "A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient."

Experts interviewed by The Associated Press, including two who helped draft the legislation, said a brain-dead patient's case wouldn't be covered by the law.

"This patient is neither terminally nor irreversibly ill," said Dr. Robert Fine, clinical director of the office of clinical ethics and palliative care for Baylor Health Care System. "Under Texas law, this patient is legally dead."

Tom Mayo, a Southern Methodist University law professor, said he did not believe the law applied in this case.

Hospital spokesperson JR Labbe has said hospital officials stand by their decision: "This is not a difficult decision for us. We are following the law."

Labbe directed questions about the lawsuit to the Tarrant County District Attorney's office, which she said represents local public hospitals. Spokesperson Melody McDonald Lanier said attorneys were reviewing the case and declined to comment further.

- AP

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