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Texas father, barred from removing pregnant wife from life support, speaks out

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In late November, Texas father Erick Munoz woke at 2 a.m. to his one-year-old son crying and his 14-week-pregnant wife, Marlise, unconscious on their kitchen floor. Munoz, a paramedic himself, performed CPR, called 911 and resuscitated Marlise, who was without a pulse and blue in the face.

Now, one month later, Erick is fighting a battle to have her removed from life support, says San Antonio’s KENS5 news station on Dec. 19. Erick says his wife is neurologically brain dead, having suffered a pulmonary embolism, and that he is trying to fulfill her wishes to not be artificially sustained on machines.

Marlise has been on life support at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, since Nov. 26, despite her clear wishes to her family that she not have her life prolonged in a hopeless situation.

At the core of this ethical argument is the life of the unborn baby. While the baby is being monitored and does have a heartbeat, Erick says that the fetus is likely not “viable,” due to the amount of time his wife was without oxygen.

He does not expect many to side with him, nor does he see this dilemma as a pro-choice / pro-life debate.

Munoz wrote on news media WFAA's Facebook page, "All I know is that she was without oxygen long enough for her to have massive brain swelling. I unfortunately know what that type of damage could do to a child during crucial developmental time."

Marlise's mother and father say they support their son-in-law's request to remove her from life support, stating that although Marlise did not have an official health care proxy or DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, they were all very clear of her wishes.

Marlise's brother was killed in an accident four years ago, and since then, the family says she had told them multiple times that she would not want to have her life artificially prolonged.

"She absolutely DID NOT EVER want to be connected to Life Support," Marlise’s mother, Lynne Machado, wrote on WFAA's Facebook page. "This issue is not about Pro Choice/Pro Life. Our intent is purely one of education about how this [statute] null and voids any woman's DNR [if she is] pregnant. We know our daughter well enough, after numerous discussions about DNR, that she would NEVER EVER consent to being hooked up to Life Support."

The statute that Lynne spoke of refers to a state law in Texas' Health and Safety Code.

"Section 166.049 Pregnant Patients. A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient," the code reads.

Even if Marlise had signed an advanced directive or living will, according to the Center for Women Policy Studies, as of 2012, Texas is included among 11 other states that have “automatically invalidated pregnant womens’ advance directives to refrain from using extraordinary measures to keep them alive.”

The hospital staff says they are following the law, despite the family’s personal choice.

"We have families every day that face really difficult decisions when it comes to the care of their loved ones and we would have the same response. We follow the law," said hospital spokesperson J.R. Labbe.

Erick says his wife never regained consciousness and is "simply a shell… It's hard to reach the point where you wish your wife's body would stop," he said.

What are your thoughts? Should the family continue to fight to honor Marlise's wishes, or should they embrace the unborn child that is being kept alive? Leave your comments below.

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