It was November of last year that the case first made the headlines. A Texas woman, Marlise Munoz, was found by her husband in their family home collapsed on the kitchen floor and not responding. A paramedic, he was able to get her heart started again, and she was rushed to John Peter Smith Hospital. Sadly, it became clear early on that Munoz had been without oxygen for far too long. She had collapsed after suffering from a blood clot in the lungs, starving her body and brain of the air it needed to survive. Despite the help of respirators, Marlise was clinically brain dead.
Her family was rightfully devastated, but prepared to say their farewells. Husband Erick and Marlise had discussed the issue of life support before, and both agreed that they wouldn’t want to be kept alive by machines. The decision was made, Erick’s wife was to be taken off the life support after he and her parents were given time to say goodbye. Then, a doctor told them it wasn’t going to happen. Marlise, it turns out, was fourteen weeks pregnant, and under Texas state law, this made it illegal for the hospital to remove her from life support, until such a time the fetus was viable for cesarean section.
The legal debate began. The law in question refers to the issue of terminally-ill women: those in comas, or vegetative states, and nearing death. Mrs. Munoz, on the other hand, was legally dead, and clinical brain death – a complete lack of neurological activity – constitutes death under the law. Beyond this, the fetus suffered the sameoxygen deprivation as Mrs. Munoz, for just as long. Despite this, doctors were hesitant, wanting to wait to determine the health of the fetus.
On Friday, however, a Texas state district judge ordered that the hospital remove Munoz from life support, justifying the decision by saying that the state law did not apply to the brain-dead and therefore legally dead Marlise Munoz. Although the hospital considered appealing the decision, they instead complied, only for it to come to light later that the fetus they had claimed to be protecting never had been viable, and would not have survived to term.
Although Marlise Munoz and her unborn child have finally been put to rest, it can be argued justice has not been served. She may not have suffered as she was brain dead upon arrival at the John Peter Smith, long before being put on the life support machines, but what her about her family? Through a misinterpretation of state law, a hospital was allowed to drag out an already tragic and devastating experience for over two months.
And for what? Quite possibly, profit. The machines, care, and processes needed for life-support are extensive, and expensive. Thousands of dollars a day have been adding up since the Munoz case broke headlines, and now, with a judge finally ordering peace for the family, the question of the bill arises. John Peter Smith Hospital has even stated that their financial department will look at the situation at a later time.Depending on what that means, even now this tragic ordeal may not be over for the Munoz family.