FORT WORTH — Attorneys for the family of a pregnant woman who is brain dead and on life support at a Fort Worth hospital released a statement Wednesday afternoon in an effort to clarify the condition of the fetus Marlise Muñoz is carrying.
Mrs. Muñoz's husband, Erick Muñoz, has filed a lawsuit against John Peter Smith Hospital seeking to remove life support. He said his wife was clear about her wishes not to be kept alive in that state.
However, Texas' Health and Safety Code says a person cannot "withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment [...] for a pregnant patient."
Erick Muñoz has said testing for signs of life in the fetus at this stage is limited, but the statement Wednesday reveals more details about what the family knows at this point.
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"[T]he fetus is distinctly abnormal," said Muñoz family attorneys Heather King and Jessica Janicek in the statement. "Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined."
The attorneys say the fetus has hydrocephalus (water on the brain), and a possible heart problem, though details can't be determined "due to the immobile nature of Mrs. Muñoz's deceased body."
In the lawsuit against JPS, Erick Muñoz claims since his wife is brain-dead, and therefore can't be considered a "pregnant patient." The condition of the fetus is immaterial to the lawsuit.
Attorneys King and Janicek said despite that -- and despite the private and sensitive information revealed in the statement -- they "believe just as strongly that there be absolutely no misconception about the condition of the fetus or the status of [Mrs. Muñoz.]"
The attorneys ended the statement reiterating the complaints filed in the suit are not directly related to the condition of the fetus, but rather to the vital status of the mother, saying the statute requiring life-sustaining measures for a pregnant patient "does not apply to the dead."
"Were that to be true, then it would be incumbent upon all health care providers to immediately conduct pregnancy tests on any woman of childbearing age who becomes deceased, and upon determining the deceased body was pregnant, hooking the body up to machines in an attempt to continue gestation," the statement reads. "Surely, such a result was never intended nor should it be inferred."
Marlise Muñoz was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious in their Haltom City home in late November. Family members said doctors suspected she suffered a pulmonary embolism, but didn't know with complete certainty.
A hearing regarding Erick Muñoz' request to remove his wife from life support has been scheduled Friday before state District Judge R.H. Wallace in Fort Worth.