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U.S. judge orders hospital to take brain-dead pregnant woman off life support

AP

A judge on Friday ordered a Texas hospital to remove life support for a pregnant, brain-dead woman whose family had argued that she would not want to be kept in that condition.

The judge issued the ruling in the case of Marlise Munoz, who was being kept alive in a hospital in Fort Worth against her family’s wishes. The judge gave the hospital until 5 p.m. Monday to remove life support.

The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. It also has caught the attention of both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Munoz’s fetus deserves a chance to be born.

Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot.

Erick Munoz says he and his wife are paramedics who were clear about not wanting life support in this type of situation. His attorney argued that keeping the woman alive would set a dangerous precedent for similar cases in the future.

John Peter Smith Hospital maintained it had to protect the life of the unborn child. Hospital officials said they were bound by a state law prohibiting withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant patient. Several experts have said the hospital was misapplying the law.

The hospital said in a statement Friday that it “appreciates the potential impact of the consequences of the order on all parties involved” and was deciding whether to appeal.

Earlier this week, Erick Munoz’s attorneys said the fetus, now believed to be at about 22 weeks’ gestation, is “distinctly abnormal.” They attorneys said they based that statement on medical records they received from the hospital.

The local district attorney’s office, which is representing the hospital in the lawsuit, said the hospital was expected to issue a statement later Friday in response to the ruling.

Not much is known about fetal survival when mothers suffer brain death during pregnancy. German doctors who searched for such cases found 30 instances of survival over nearly 30 years, according to an article published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2010.

But those mothers were further along in pregnancy — 22 weeks on average — when brain death occurred.