By Cheryl Sullenger
Austin, TX – When 33-year old Marlise Munoz suddenly collapsed in her Texas home in November 2013, she was 14 weeks pregnant with her second child. “Still alive,” she was rushed to John Peter Smith Hospital in Ft. Worth. There she was put on life support where she remained for two months.
Thus began a legal struggle between the hospital and the Munoz family that prompted a national debate on whether families have the right to order a hospital to “pull the plug” on pregnant women on life support if it means killing the pre-born baby as well.
Friday, Texas State Representative Matt Krause introduced HB 1901, the Unborn Child Due Process Act, which would further clarify a legal provision in the Texas Advanced Directives Act that currently prohibits anyone from withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient. The bill would allow the state to appoint an attorney ad litem “to represent the unborn child’s interests” in cases where “the life-sustaining treatment of a pregnant patient is at issue.”
In the Munoz case, the hospital initially took the position that it had a legal obligation under the Texas Advanced Directives Act to keep Mrs. Munoz on life support until the baby reached “viability,” or 24 weeks gestation when her baby could be expected to survive if birthed.
However, after her family was told that Mrs. Munoz was “brain dead,” they fought to discontinue life support before the baby could reach viability. The family pled its case in the media, calling Mrs. Munoz a “dead corpse” with the “smell of death” and claiming that the baby suffered serious health issues.
In January 2014, Operation Rescue sought to intervene to protect Baby Munoz, even lining up a family that was willing to adopt the baby knowing the child would have special medical needs.
However, a judge ruled that the family could order the hospital to end life support. On the day Operation Rescue and others planned a protest at JPS Hospital, life support was terminated and both Mrs. Munoz and her daughter, Nichole — just days away from her so-called “viability” date — passed away.
The protest turned into a memorial vigil.
At the time of their deaths, Troy Newman released the following statement:
It is despicable that dehumanizing and deceptive language was used to refer to Marlise as a “corpse” and her baby’s condition as “incompatible with life” in order to elicit public support for putting them to death.
A human being does not lose [his or her] God-given human beauty or dignity just because they are disabled or incapacitated. This case just goes to show how far we have slipped into the abyss of a Culture of Death and how intolerant we have become of those who are seen as “inconvenient.” . . . May this tragedy serve as a wake-up call to our society, lest others wrongly fall victim to this dehumanizing utilitarian view of life and death.
Now, Newman is pleased that the proposed new Texas law may prevent the deaths of other pre-born babies in similarly tragic circumstances.
“We strongly support the Unborn Child Due Process Act. This legislation will give hospitals clear guidance on how to handle these tragic cases in order to protect the lives of babies that just need a little more time to have a chance to live,” said Newman.
Meanwhile, Marlise Munoz’ family is now supporting opposing legislation that would remove the provision in the Texas Advanced Directives Act that prohibits withholding or removing life support from pregnant women. Ironically, they are calling it “Marlise’s Law” — apparently with little or no consideration to little Nichole’s plight.
“That is more like a ‘Pull the Plug Law,’” said Newman. “While I feel great compassion for the family of Marlise and Nichole Munoz and recognize that no one ever wants to be in their difficult and tragic situation, if there is a chance that a life can be saved, we need to make every effort to protect and save that life.”