Health Reproductive Rights

Fetus of Brain-Dead Woman Kept On Life Support Against Wishes Found Deformed

The fetus of Marlise Munoz, the pregnant, brain-dead Texas woman who has been kept on life support by her hospital against her and her family’s wishes, has been reported to be “distinctly abnormal.”

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

According to attorneys representing Munoz’ family in a lawsuit against the hospital, the fetus’ lower extremities are very deformed, making its gender impossible to determine. It has hydrocephalus, or fluid building up in the skull, and it may have heart problems, but it cannot be determined because of the condition of Munoz’ body. The attorneys said the fetus is “gestating within a dead and deteriorating body as the horrified family looks on.”

Marlise Munoz has been brain dead since November 26, but her hospital will not let her off life support because of her pregnancy. Munoz, who was a paramedic, made it clear when she was alive that she never wanted to be kept on life support with no hope of recovery if anything ever happened to her.

But when Munoz collapsed and was found with no breath or pulse in November, possibly caused by a pulmonary embolism, she was 14 weeks pregnant. She is now 22 weeks pregnant. She had been without oxygen for too long for her brain to recover, but her heart was revived by electric shock, and doctors found a fetal heartbeat. Under the Texas Advance Directives Act, the state of Texas requires that “a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.” The hospital interpreted this to invalidate her wishes, even though experts interviewed by the Associated Press said a brain-dead patient would not be covered by the law. A 2012 report by the Center for Women Policy Studies found that Texas is one of 12 US states that invalidate a woman’s end-of-life wishes if she is pregnant.

A hearing is scheduled in the lawsuit for today.

Media Resources: Star-Telegram 1/22/14; Al Jazeera 1/23/14; Center for Women Policy Studies August 2012; Feminist Newswire 1/6/14

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