A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the case of Marlise Munoz, a Fort Worth, Texas woman who was left brain dead after suffering a pulmonary embolism. Her husband, Eric Munoz, had been fighting with the Texas hospital caring for Marlise, demanding that they take her off the life-support, he says she would not have wanted to receive. To complicate the matter, Marlise was pregnant at the time she suffered her embolism, and Texas law made it clear that incapacitated pregnant women could not be removed from life support.
Court Orders Life Support Removed
In order to have his wife removed from life support and buried, Eric Munoz asked a Texas court to get involved. The court found that Marlise was legally brain-dead, and that the fetus she carried within her was not viable. After making this determination, the court ordered the Texas hospital that had been keeping Marlise alive to remove her from life support no later than Monday, January 27th. The hospital complied with this order and took Marlise off of life support systems on Sunday, January 26.
Pregnant Women and Advance Directives
The key issues in the Munoz case centered on Texas laws that cover advance medical directives. Like all other states, Texas has adopted laws that allow people to create living wills, health care powers of attorney, and other advance medical directives. These documents allow people to state their medical choices in the event they become incapacitated or are otherwise unable to express their medical wishes.
The Texas law, unlike the North Carolina law, specifically prohibits women from using medical directives that would withdraw life-support while they were pregnant. The Texas hospital that refused to withdraw life-support from Marlise Munoz did so explicitly because of the Texas law.
Creating Advance Directives to Avoid Estate Litigaiton
Marlise Munoz did not have any advance medical directives made, but there appears to be no disagreement over what her medical wishes were. If she had created an advance directive that stated her desire to be removed from life support, it’s likely that her case would’ve still wound up in court.
Yet regardless of what specific state laws require, every capable adult should create advance medical directives as soon as possible. The Munoz case highlights the dangers of what could happen should you become incapacitated, but it’s not the only possible outcome. In cases where people have become incapacitated without being clear about their medical desires, courts have had to get involved because family members could not come to an agreement about what the incapacitated person wanted. Having advance directives reduces the risk of litigation arising as a result of your wishes being unclear.