A brain-dead pregnant woman was finally disconnected from her ventilator Sunday after a judge ruled Friday that Texas law did not require her to be kept on life support.
Texas law requires "pregnant patients" to be kept on life support, but State District Judge R.H. Wallace ruled that Marlise Munoz, 33, was legally "deceased" and the law did not apply to her, The Associated Press reported.
The Munoz family will now get to bury Marlise and her unborn child, but this case serves as a vital lesson for future litigants.
Texas Law or Living Will?
Although Marlise Munoz did not have a living will specifying her wishes not to be kept on life support in the event of her brain death, even if she had, Texas law may have prevented it from being enforced. Texas is one of at least 26 states that require life support -- despite living wills -- if the patient in question is pregnant.
Munoz's story highlighted the problem that these laws can pose for families who feel like hospitals and state laws are holding their loved ones' bodies hostage. In the future, families could potentially try to sue the offending state under the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection, arguing that the laws discriminate based on gender by only disregarding the living wills of women.
Until such cases are tried -- or state legislatures amend their laws -- the majority of American states can ignore the final wishes of pregnant women.
Court Sided With Munoz's Husband
Erick Munoz, Marlise's husband, had filed suit earlier this month, seeking only to force John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth to remove his wife from life support. The court granted Munoz and his family's wishes for injunctive relief, ordering the hospital to remove Marlise from life support by 5 p.m. Monday, the AP reported.
Since the Munozes had no claims for monetary damages, this will be the end of their courtroom battle with the hospital. Similarly situated families could potentially try to sue a hospital for the emotional distress caused by keeping their loved ones from being laid to rest. But these claims are unlikely to succeed if hospitals are simply complying with state law.
If you're anxious about your family's final wishes, it's best to consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer near you.