FORT WORTH — A Texas man has filed a lawsuit against a Fort Worth hospital in an effort to remove his pregnant brain-dead wife from life support.
In the lawsuit, Erick Munoz's lawyers claim that keeping 33-year-old Marlise Munoz on life support is against her 14th Amendment right since she told loved ones she didn't want to be kept alive by a machine.
"The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall 'deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law,; " the suit reads. "The principle that a competent person has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in making decisions regarding their own body began at common law."
The lawsuit further states since Marlise Munoz is brain dead, she "cannot possibly be a 'pregnant patient.' "
On the morning of Nov. 26, Munoz found his wife unconscious on the floor of the couple's kitchen. Munoz said later that day he was told by doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital that his wife — who was 14 weeks pregnant with the couple's second child — was brain dead.
"Erick Munoz vehemently opposes any further medical treatment to be undertaken on the deceased body of his wife. "
— Lawsuit filed against John Peter Smith Hospital
Doctors told her family they suspect she suffered a pulmonary embolism.
Since then, Munoz has been in a battle with the hospital to remove his wife from life support. While tests on his wife's fetus show a normal heartbeat, Munoz said it was against his wife's wishes to be kept alive by a machine.
"Erick Munoz vehemently opposes any further medical treatment to be undertaken on the deceased body of his wife," read the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Tarrant County, Texas.
However, officials at John Peter Smith Hospital say it would be against the law to remove Marlise Munoz from life support based on Section 166.049 of the Texas Health and Safety Code.
"A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient," the code reads.
The cases of Marlise Munoz and Jahi McMath, 13, who was declared brain dead after suffering rare complications from a Dec. 9 tonsillectomy, have shone a spotlight on end-of-life issues. Jahi's family wanted to keep her on a ventilator, while the hospital she was in wanted to remove it. She was transported to a new facility where she remains on a ventilator.
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In Munoz's lawsuit, his lawyers cite Section 671.001 of the Texas Health and Safety Code:
"(a) A person is dead when, according to ordinary standards of medical
practice, there is irreversible cessation of the person's spontaneous respiratory and
(b) If artificial means of support preclude a determination that a
person's spontaneous respiratory and circulatory functions have ceased, the person is
dead when, in the announced opinion of a physician, according to ordinary standards of
medical practice, there is irreversible cessation of all spontaneous brain function.
Death occurs when the relevant functions cease."
"In the alternative, Section 166.049 is unconstitutional as applied to Marlise as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States," the suit reads.
Both paramedics, the couple had extensive talks about life support, Munoz said.
Marlise Munoz's parents have backed up her husband's efforts to remove their daughter from life support.
"There was a lot of twinkle in our eyes and a lot of smiles and laughter, and not anymore," said Lynne Machado, Marlise's mother, in a WFAA-TV report on Jan. 8. "It's just barely getting through the day."
Contributing: Liz Szabo, USA TODAY