Story by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The family of a pregnant and brain-dead Texas woman said Sunday afternoon that she has been removed from life support following a judge's ruling that a Fort Worth hospital was misapplying state law in the case.
A statement sent Sunday afternoon by lawyers for the husband of Marlisa Munoz says she was disconnected from life support about 11:30 a.m.
It says her body was released to her husband, Erick Munoz, and that the family is now looking to lay her body to rest.
Escorted through the throng of journalists by his attorneys, Erick Munoz leaves the courtroom following a judge's ruling in the case of his wife, Marlise Munoz, at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center, in Fort Worth, Texas on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. The judge sided with the family and ordered John Peter Smith Hospital to declare the pregnant woman dead and withdraw life support by 5 p.m. Monday. (Image source: AP/The Dallas Morning News, Tom Fox)
Earlier Sunday, J.R. Labbe, a spokeswoman for John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, issued a statement saying the hospital "will follow the court order" issued Friday in the case of Marlise Munoz.
"From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it," the statement says. "On Friday, a state district judge ordered the removal of life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Munoz. The hospital will follow the court order."
Judge R.H. Wallace had given the hospital until 5 p.m. Monday to comply with his ruling to remove Munoz from life support, which Erick Munoz says is what his wife would have wanted.
She was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot.
Both the hospital and family agreed before Wallace's ruling that Marlise Munoz meets the criteria to be considered brain-dead — which means she is dead both medically and under Texas law — and that her fetus, at about 23 weeks, could not be born alive this early in pregnancy.
Erick Munoz and his wife both worked as paramedics and were familiar with end-of-life issues. He insisted both were clear that they did not want to be kept alive by machines in this type of situation.
Munoz described in a signed affidavit Thursday what it was like to see his wife on life support: her glassy, "soulless" eyes; and the smell of her perfume replaced by what he knows to be the smell of death. He said he tried to hold her hand but can't.
"Her limbs have become so stiff and rigid due to her deteriorating condition that now, when I move her hands, her bones crack, and her legs are nothing more than dead weight," Munoz said.
But the hospital argued it was bound by Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient, regardless of her end-of-life wishes.
Ernest and Lynne Machado, parents of Marlise Munoz, arrive to hear a judge's ruling in their daughters life or death case at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Image source: AP/The Dallas Morning News, Tom Fox)
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 garnered attention on both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Munoz's fetus deserves a chance to be born.
Legal experts interviewed by The Associated Press have said the hospital was misreading the law and that the law doesn't have an absolute command to keep someone like Munoz on life support.
Supporters of the Munoz family assembled outside the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center, in Fort Worth, Texas on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, after a judge ruled in Marlise Munoz life or death case. (Image source: AP/The Dallas Morning News, Tom Fox)
Larry Thompson, a state's attorney arguing on behalf of the hospital Friday, said the hospital was trying to protect the rights of the fetus as it believed Texas law instructed it to do.
"There is a life involved, and the life is the unborn child," Thompson said.
But on Sunday, the hospital backed down in the face of the judge's order.
"The past eight weeks have been difficult for the Munoz family, the caregivers and the entire Tarrant County community, which found itself involved in a sad situation," the hospital's statement says. "JPS Health Network has followed what we believed were the demands of a state statute."