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Women as Incubators: How a Texas Law Is Keeping a Brain-Dead Patient Alive to ‘Save’ Fetus

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Posted on Jan 9, 2014
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Erick and Marlise Munoz with their toddler before Marlise suffered a pulmonary embolism in November.

A week after Thanksgiving, Marlise Munoz had a suspected pulmonary embolism in Fort Worth, Texas. That would be the end of the tragic story if it weren’t for the fact that at the time her brain waves stopped, she was 14 weeks pregnant. In the Lone Star State, that’s enough to keep a person alive against her will.

Contrary to her family’s and her own wishes, Munoz will remain on life support until the fetus within her is fully formed. All this thanks to an absurd law in the Texas Advance Directives Act that stipulates that “a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.” According to AlterNet:

Hospital spokesperson J.R. Labbe said he believed the hospital’s hands are tied: “We can’t withdraw treatment from a pregnant person as the law states,” he told Dallas Culture Map.

This is despite the fact that family members including her husband have publicly stated they do not wish to keep her on life support and have expressed concern about the condition of the baby.

“That poor fetus had the same lack of oxygen, the same electric shocks, the same chemicals that got her heart going again. For all we know, it’s in the same condition that Marlise is in,” her father, Ernest Machado, told Dallas News.

Texas is known for having the strictest laws on abortion and prohibitions relating to the standards for cutting off life support to pregnant patients.

The case has sparked an ugly public debate between anti-abortion activists in the state with some accusing the family of “wanting to pull the plug.” ...


No matter what side you fall on in the abortion debate, surely it’s painfully obvious that keeping someone’s heart beating just to incubate an unborn fetus is utterly inhumane. As Munoz’s 60-year-old father puts it, “This isn’t about pro-life or pro-choice. We want to say goodbye. We want to let them rest.”

What’s more, experts are saying this is a complete misreading of the law. According to The Associated Press, three people, two of whom helped write the law, have stated that a “brain-dead patient’s case wouldn’t be covered by the law.”

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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