Judge rules that pregnant brain dead woman in Texas can be removed from life support

Judge rules that pregnant brain dead woman in Texas can be removed from life support

Maternal brain death is a controversial issue.

A Fort Worth judge finally put an end to the legal saga of a brain dead pregnant woman, reports CNN.  Ordering Marlise Munoz to be removed from respirators and ventilators, the judge relied on facts that the hospital and Marlise’s husband Erick Munoz agreed on.  Namely, that Marlise has been clinically brain dead since November and the fetus is not viable.  For now, the closely followed story has ended, but the hospital could still appeal.

Marlise, a 33-year-old woman from Tarrant County, Texas, collapsed in her home on November 26 as a result of a pulmonary embolism, reports UPI.  Her husband Erick found her on their living room floor and performed CPR as they waited for the ambulance to arrive.  Marlise, pregnant with their child, was pronounced brain dead.  Erick and Marlise were both paramedics and discussed their medical wishes.  Neither wanted to be kept alive artificially, but Texas law prevents withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant woman.

It is possible for a baby to be born to a brain dead mother.  Earlier this year, a Hungarian woman that was 15 weeks pregnant had a baby 92 days after she was declared brain dead, reports The Telegraph.  At the age of 32, the mother had a catastrophic stroke.  At the time, she was 15 weeks pregnant.  Doctors worked for two days to save her life, but her vital functions, including circulation, failed.

In that case, the fetus remained “alive and kicking” and the woman’s partner and parents were given the choice to switch off the life support or keep them functioning in an attempt to save the fetus.  The family chose the latter option, hoping to save the baby.  The baby was delivered during the 27th week through a caesarean section.  Though the baby was born premature, the child is healthy.

Maternal brain death is a controversial issue.  The Journal of the American Medical Association delves into the issues in a 1988 case study of a 27-year-old pregnant woman maintained in a brain dead state for nine weeks.  The article considers the technical feasibility of delivering a healthy fetus in these circumstances, the monetary costs of maintaining life support for an extended period of time, and the ethical implications both with respect to the unborn child and the mother being left to die with dignity and without prolonged suffering.  The University of Miami Health System describes the guidelines for brain death, which is a clinical declaration of death without a full cessation of bodily functions.

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