Lawsuit seeks to stop life support for brain-dead Texas woman

Posted at 6:24 PM, Jan 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-14 20:24:44-05

By CNN Staff

(CNN) — The husband of a pregnant, brain-dead Texas woman filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to force the hospital to take her off life support.

The family also wants the hospital to turn the body of Marlise Munoz over for a proper burial.

The lawsuit argues the 33-year-old woman is dead, so a Texas law cited by the hospital that makes it illegal to withhold life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant woman is moot.

What the hospital is doing “amounts to nothing more than the cruel and obscene mutilation of a deceased body against the expressed will of the deceased and her family,” according to the lawsuit.

“In sum, Marlise Munoz’s death is a horrible and tragic circumstance, but by no means should (the hospital) be entitled to continue cutting into her deceased body in front of her husband and family under the guise of ‘life sustaining’ treatment,” according to the lawsuit.

The Tarrant County district attorney’s office said it will defend the medical facility against the lawsuit. It is legal counsel for John Peter Smith Hospital “in a number of civil areas.”

Noting it first learned of the legal action just before noon Tuesday, the office said it “will file a response in due course” but won’t have any further comment now “because litigation is pending.”

Munoz’s family says she has been brain-dead since her husband, Erick Munoz, found her unconscious at their home on November 26. At the time, she was 14 weeks’ pregnant with the couple’s second child.

The family says the fetus may have been deprived of oxygen.

Her family says Marlise Munoz had given clear — if unwritten — instructions that she did not want her life to be prolonged by a ventilator or other artificial means, but they say officials at the Fort Worth, Texas, hospital have refused to disconnect her life support.

In December, a hospital spokeswoman said the facility was just following Texas law.

“And state law here says you cannot withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient. It’s that clear,” hospital spokeswoman J.R. Labbe said.

Last week, Labbe told CNN that the hospital believed “the courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction and resolution in this matter.”

One legal expert consulted by CNN said last week he believes the hospital is misinterpreting the law, which he helped write.

“The two things I think are fundamentally wrong about the hospital’s position here are: First of all, she’s not a patient anymore,” Southern Methodist University law professor Tom Mayo said. “And so I don’t see how we can use a provision of the law that talks about treating or not treating a patient in a case where we really don’t have a patient.”

CNN’s Elizabeth Landau, Ed Lavandera and Jason Morris contributed to this report.

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