December 24th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

Husband of Pregnant Woman Wants Her Off Life Support

Erick Munoz wants to see his wife's wish fulfilled this holiday season, but it's one that carries ethical and legal challenges: To be taken off of life support, CNN's Pamela Brown reports.

Marlise Munoz, 33, is in serious condition in the intensive care unit at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, hospital officials said. She is unconscious and on a ventilator, her husband told CNN affiliate WFAA, but she wouldn't have wanted her life sustained by a machine.

"We talked about it. We're both paramedics," he told WFAA. "We've seen things out in the field. We both knew that we both didn't want to be on life support."

Complicating an already difficult situation is that Munoz is also pregnant, about 18 weeks along, WFAA reported. Texas state law prohibits withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient, regardless of her wishes.

Patients can indicate their future wishes about medical treatment, in the event that they are unable to communicate them, through forms called advance directives. But in Texas, under the Health and Safety Code, such a form includes the provision "I understand that under Texas law this Directive has no effect if I have been diagnosed as pregnant."

Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, spoke on "New Day" Tuesday and said the law is too broad.

"What you want is a law that recognizes the difference between a one-day-old embryo and almost a baby due to be delivered. Pregnancy is not a single condition, so I think the law is way too broad. Plus, the dad is worried in this case – was the fetus harmed when his wife went through this terrible medical incident?"

Erick Munoz told WFAA doctors said his wife may have suffered a pulmonary embolism, which happens when blood clots travel to the lungs from elsewhere in the body. They do not know how long the baby went without nutrients and oxygen.

The hospital would not release specific details about Marlise Munoz's condition, but officials said the hospital would follow Texas law regarding care during pregnancy.

"We have a responsibility as a good corporate citizen here in Tarrant County to also provide the highest quality care we can for all of our patients," said J.R. Labbe, vice president of communications and community affairs for JPS Health Network, in a statement.

"But at all times, we will follow the law as it is applicable to health care in the state of Texas. And state law here says you cannot withhold or withdraw life sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient. It's that clear."

The husband and wife, both paramedics in the Tarrant County area, have a 14-month-old son named Mateo.

Erick Munoz and Marlise Munoz's mother did not immediately respond to requests for comment from CNN.

Erick Munoz found his wife unconscious on November 26, around 2 a.m. He performed CPR on her and then called 911, WFAA reported.

Since that day, the pregnant woman has been on life support, her husband said. Tests have shown that the fetus has a normal heart beat, he said. At 24 weeks, doctors may know more about when the fetus can be taken out, Munoz's family told WFAA. Doctors have also discussed the possibility of taking the fetus to full term.

He told WFAA that his wife had said she would not want to be kept alive by machine, and said he has reached "the point where you wish that your wife's body would stop."

Munoz wears his wife's pink and blue bracelets on his wrist, WFAA reported. Her wedding ring is on his pinkie.

When Munoz walks in the door, he said his son Mateo is waiting for his mother to show up.

"You can see it in his eyes," Munoz said.

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soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. EA

    If pregnancy isn't a "single condition," what is it? Either you're pregnant or not. There's no such thing as "semi-pregnant."

    December 25, 2013 at 7:57 am | Reply
  2. Drake

    So although it would mean killing his child which has a normal heartbeat and would develop without intervention, and although his wife signed a paper which specifically excluded taking her off life support in the case of pregnancy, he wants to claim that he's got her best interests in mind. They may have 'talked about' being kept on machines but as someone who myself wouldn't want to be kept alive on machines forever - I mean that only in reference to myself and certainly would not mean that I would want my unborn child killed with me if they could live by keeping me on machines a little longer. It is wrong for him to assume that what she said about herself also applied to how she would feel if she were carrying her child also when that happened.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Reply

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