A recent story out of Texas is drawing new attention to the significant differences between state laws that address advance directives and medical wishes made by pregnant women. Late last year, Dallas-Fort Worth area paramedic Eric Munoz discovered his wife, Marlise, unconscious on the floor of their home. His wife, who was pregnant at the time, remained unresponsive to his efforts to revive her, and he had her transported to an area hospital.
Physicians at the hospital diagnosed Marlise as having likely suffered from a pulmonary embolism. The blood clot stopped oxygen from getting to her brain and essentially left Marlise brain-dead.
When he learned of her brain-dead status, Eric Munoz told her doctors that his wife would not have wanted to remain on life support. However, because of her pregnancy and the dictates of Texas law, her doctors refused to take the woman off of the life-sustaining machines.
Advance Directives and Pregnancy
Texas, like other states, allows capable adults to make their own medical choices through documents known as advance directives. (Advance directives include such documents as living wills and health care powers of attorney.) When making these directives, adults can make whatever medical decisions they like that will apply in the event that adult becomes incapacitated and cannot communicate his or her wishes.
However, several states do not permit such directives to apply during pregnancy. In Texas, for example, the law states that physicians may not remove any life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant woman even if she has made an advance directive that specifically states her choice to refuse such care.
Advance Directives and Spousal Choice
When someone becomes incapacitated and has not created an advance directive, it usually falls to a spouse or close family member to make medical decisions on that person’s behalf. Eric and Marlise Munoz were both experienced paramedics. Eric says that they had talked about the possibility of needing life-sustaining treatment while brain-dead and both had agreed that they did not want to be kept artificially alive. Though it does not appear that Marlise Munoz had created an advance directive, Eric was clear in stating his wife’s intention to be withdrawn from such treatments in her condition. Yet regardless of his expression of his wife’s wishes, her doctors are legally prevented from removing her from the machines keeping her alive.
North Carolina Advance Directives
Unlike Texas, the North Carolina’s laws on advance directives do not specifically address the question of pregnancy. If you are pregnant, believe you might become pregnant, or have any questions about what your rights with advance directives are while pregnant, you should schedule an appointment with us so we can discuss the issues.