A judge today ordered a Texas hospital to remove a brain-dead pregnant woman from life support by 5 p.m. Monday.
Marlise Munoz, a 33-year-old paramedic, had been on life support since a suspected pulmonary embolism rendered her brain dead in November. Because she was 14 weeks pregnant at the time, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth said it was bound by state law from removing her from life support until Munoz miscarried or a baby was born.
Munoz's family said she never wanted to be on life support, and they sued to have her removed from it on Jan 14, arguing that the law didn't apply to her because she was legally dead.
Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. agreed. "Mrs. Munoz is dead," the ruling reads.
Munoz's entire family was crying when the judge ruled in their favor, Jobin Panicker, a reporter from WFAA, ABC's Dallas affiliate, tweeted from the courtroom.
The case has sparked a heated debate about whether a woman who is medically dead should be kept on life support for the duration of her pregnancy for the sake of her fetus. Although Munoz’s mother told ABCNews.com that this is not about abortion for them, the case has also garnered attention from both sides of the abortion debate.
"It's very frustrating because we know what our daughter wanted, and we're not about to honor that because of this law," Munoz’s mother, Lynne Machado told ABCNews.com in December, before deciding to contest the law.
On Wednesday, the family’s lawyers announced that the 22-week-old fetus was “distinctly abnormal,” with water on the brain, a possible heart condition and lower extremity deformities.
Texas law states that "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient," but the judge determined it doesn’t apply to Munoz because she is already legally dead. In Texas, death is legally defined as “the "irreversible cessation of the person's spontaneous respiratory and circulatory functions," according to the Munoz family’s legal filing.
According to the suit, the hospital has interpreted the law in a way that "makes no sense and amounts to nothing more than the cruel and obscene mutilation of a deceased body against the expressed will of the deceased and her family."
They also questioned whether the law was constitutional, but the judge did not make a ruling on this.
Because John Peter Smith Hospital is a local public hospital, the Tarrant County District Attorney's office represented it. On behalf of the hospital, the office filed its response to the suit last week, in which it denied all allegations.
The family's heartbreak began on Nov. 26, when Munoz got out of bed in the middle of the night because her 14-month-old son, Mateo, began to cry, Machado said. When the baby continued to cry and Munoz didn't return, Munoz's firefighter husband got up too. That's when he found Munoz on the kitchen floor. She was not breathing and had no pulse. Her skin had taken on a bluish color, Machado said.
Doctors suspect she had a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in the lungs, but they won't know until an autopsy can be performed, Machado said.
"It's hard to reach the point where you wish your wife's body would stop," Erick Munoz told ABC News' Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate WFAA-TV.
Machado initially said family members wouldn't fight the law until after her daughter was finally taken off life support because she thought the hospital's hands were tied by the law, and didn't blame the doctors for the situation. But they want the public to know that this can happen.
Although Internet commenters have made the family's situation into an abortion rights issue, Machado said the family has shared its story to educate the public about a law it never knew existed.
"Hopefully, no family has to go through this hell we've had to go through," she said.