Healthcare Business News

Remove brain-dead pregnant woman from life support, Texas judge rules

By Sabriya Rice
Posted: January 24, 2014 - 6:15 pm ET

A Texas judge ruled Friday that John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, should remove Marlise Muņoz from life support by 5 p.m. CST Monday.

The 33-year-old paramedic was declared brain dead Nov. 26, but a Texas law prohibiting withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient meant the family could not have her removed from life support as they had wished.

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“JPS Health Network appreciates the potential impact of the consequences of the order on all parties involved and will be consulting with the Tarrant County District Attorney's office,” the hospital said in response to the decision. In a previous statement the hospital was encouraged that the court took over the case saying they were the “appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction and resolution in this matter.”

CNN reported that court documents released before the Friday hearing said the "fetus gestating inside Mrs. Munoz is not viable," a development some healthcare attorneys say may have influenced the judge's decision. “The defense argued that it must protect the interests of the fetus, and if the fetus is not viable, then the state's interest is obviously diminished,” said Michael Silhol, a health attorney not connected to the case.

The Muņoz case reignited both pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

About a dozen states have similar pregnancy exclusions in their advance directive statutes, and healthcare providers in those areas have been following the developments.

The lawsuit is one of two recently that have highlighted concerns about whether physicians and the public fully understand the term "brain death" and, more importantly, for healthcare organizations, whether physicians effectively communicate what it means to patients' families.

Follow Sabriya Rice on Twitter: @MHSRice

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