Life support is not death support

A recent controversy in Texas calls into question our basic rights

Story by Katy Macek, Staff Writer

Imagine watching your spouse’s unresponsive body deteriorate in a hospital bed right before your eyes, watching the life taken right out of them and not being able to do anything about it.

That’s what I imagine it was like for Erick Munoz, whose wife Marlise Munoz was admitted to the hospital after falling unconscious in her Texas home and suffering a possible blood clot on Nov. 26, according to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth News.

Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant and pronounced brain dead two days later by the Fort Worth hospital that admitted her.

While her husband and family asked the hospital to take her off life support, they were denied because the hospital said a Texas law prevented them from doing so.

According to the New York Times, a spokesman for the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, who represented the hospital, said the law “must convey legislative intent to protect the unborn child, otherwise the Legislature would have simply allowed a pregnant patient to decide to let her life, and the life of her unborn child, end.”

As Americans, we are granted many freedoms. As a person from anywhere in the world, the rights to our body should be our own. The wording of this law bothers me because of the word “decide.”

Erick and Marlise Muñoz were both paramedics and had talked about scenarios like this, deciding they didn’t want life support in this type of situation. This means it was Marlise Munoz’s choice to be taken off life support if a situation ever arose.

The attorney assigned to Erick Muñoz also released a statement regarding the condition of the fetus, describing it as “’distinctly abnormal’ with heart problems, deformed lower extremities and hydrocephalus, or water on the brain,” the statement said.

Not only that, but it was her husband and her family’s choice to remove both patient and fetus from life support after gathering all of this information.

So, the wife had previously consented to be taken off life support, the husband consented as well as her family. This should have concluded the case.

While we can never know for sure, I sincerely doubt if there were any possibility for the child to have a healthy life, Erick Munoz, already the father of one child, would not have been so quick to disconnect the life that was left.

Dr. Sheila Chhutani, an OB-GYN at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, analyzed the case. “Knowing of these abnormalities this early in gestation, the likelihood of having a good outcome for the fetus is definitely decreased,” Chhutani said in an interview with NPR.

While little information is available, she found a 2010 study on brain-dead pregnant women from Heidelberg University, which concluded that, in this difficult position, “A meeting of the neurosurgical, critical care … along with the patient’s family, should collectively make a decision about future treatment steps.”

All parties involved should work together collectively, including the family, whose voice in this case was left out.

But I do believe in personal choice, which is something all citizens in America have the right to, and forcing a brain-dead patient whose fetus is barely recognizable to stay alive against the family’s wishes, or her own, should have never been an issue.

Fortunately, Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. ruled Marlise Munoz’s body to be taken off life-support, and as of Monday morning her body was disconnected from the machines.

This issue is bigger than one family’s story. The fact that a woman and her family had to fight for the right to make their own decisions about a family member’s body makes me wonder what other rights we could be denied if the situation arose.