ColumnMarlise Munoz is being kept alive—against her family’s wishes—to incubate a fetus.
Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when she suffered a blood clot and was declared brain dead just after Thanksgiving.
Texas, where Munoz lived with her husband Erick, is one of 12 states that automatically invalidate a pregnant woman’s advance healthcare directive. Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin make up the full list, reports the Center for Women Policy Studies.
Let’s pause here for a moment. In 12 states, close to 1/4 of the U.S., the second you get pregnant, your rights and wishes go out the window—your sole purpose becomes to grow that baby.
Erick and Marlise Munoz both worked as paramedics. Erick told the Associated Press, having seen more death than the average person, that his wife was really clear about her wishes: If she fell into a condition like this, end life support and let her die.
But, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth has refused to take Marlise Munoz off machines, citing a state law the hospital says requires it to continue treating a pregnant patient.
The lawsuit recently filed by Munoz points out that this rule doesn’t apply because his wife is no longer a patient, she is dead. Dr. Robert Fine, clinical director of the office of clinical ethics and palliative care for Baylor Health Care System, agrees.
Despite a family that is on the same page, and Dr. Fine’s clinical and ethical assessment, the hospital’s focus isn’t on doing what’s best for the woman. She no longer matters—dead or alive—because she’s pregnant.
She’s an incubator.
Ernest Machado, Marlise’s father, told the New York Times, “All she is is a host for a fetus. I get angry with the state. What business did they have delving into these areas?”
The areas he is referring to are a messy mix of politics and medicine—not to mention his family’s personal life.
The media is fixated on the viability of the fetus (now 21 weeks) and just how long the state would have to keep Marlise Munoz’s womb warm and keep her artificially alive for the fetus to survive.
If it’s not what she wanted, one hour is too long. One minute is too long.
Marlise’s husband and parents do not know the state of the fetus’ health. Past cases have shown that under similar circumstances some develop normally, while others don’t. It’s also unclear how long Munoz (and therefore the fetus) was unconscious and without oxygen before she was found and placed on life support.
But the viability of the fetus is not the issue. Marlise Munoz’s decision about her end-of-life care is the issue. She made her wishes clear; her husband and her parents are trying to respect those wishes. That should be the end of the story.
But we all know it won’t be.
The ruling in Erick Munoz’s case against the hospital will set a precedent because it raises hard questions about the right to choose when it comes to death and to life—questions that this family who has already lost a daughter, wife and mother (the couple has a 15-month-old son) has answered for itself and should have been be able to answer privately.
As of last Tuesday, there wasn’t a date set for the hearing, despite Erick Munoz’s request to expedite the case.
It’s easy to see the state dragging this out to pacify anti-choice voters in the name of buying time for the fetus to develop.
But, the real point Texas is making with this case is that it can keep using Marlise Munoz’s body however it sees fit because as women, our bodies don’t belong to us.
That Happened is Libby Lowe’s weekly column for EcoSalon analyzing media, news and pop culture through a feminist lens. Keep in touch with Libby @LibbyLowe.
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