State Judge Rules Pregnant Woman to be Taken Off Life Support

Friday afternoon, a state judge ruled that a Ft. Worth hospital must take a pregnant, brain dead woman off life support. A medical law expert at Texas Tech explained the legal conundrum this first-of-its-kind case presented.
by Victoria Price

LUBBOCK, TX -- A medical law expert at Texas Tech is weighing in on a state judge's decision to order a pregnant, brain dead woman be removed from life support.

"I think it's fair to say there's not a Texas controlling precedent on this issue," says Jennifer Bard, the director of the Health Law program at TTU's School of Law.

In an emergency court hearing Friday afternoon, a state judge ruled Marlise Munoz to be taken off life support this coming Monday. She has been on a respirator since late November, after she was found unconscoius while 14-weeks pregnant.

"When someone has been declared dead, there are no laws that can apply to them," according to Bard. "They just don't exist anymore as a person." 

In their defense, John Peter Smith asserted they were obligated by law to keep Munoz on life support, because she was pregnant.

"If he rules in favor of the family, what he's going to say is that law, it just doesn't apply in the case of brain death," Bard says.

One state law - the Texas Advance Directives Act - states a hospital cannot withhold care from a pregnant woman. However, another state law says laws can't apply to someone's who dead. Meaning this extremely unique case points out a major flaw in state legislation.

But all legal -- and medical -- impacts aside, Bard says above all, this situation is about the family involved.

"I think in a case like this is really important to remember what an unimaginable tragedy this is for the family, what everyone is going through," she says. "I don't think there's any villian in this situation."
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