Pregnant woman's family asks to end life support

credit: CBS 11 News
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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Attorneys for a Texas family will ask a judge Friday to allow a pregnant, brain-dead woman to be removed from life support despite opposition from the hospital, which argues it is legally bound to keep her on support.

The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. It also has caught the attention of groups on both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing the fetus deserves a chance to be born.

The judge will hear arguments as the husband of Marlise Munoz seeks to remove his wife from life support. Erick Munoz said his wife, a fellow paramedic, had told him when she was healthy that she did not want to be kept alive if she ever became ill.

Erick Munoz found his wife unconscious on Nov. 26. Her family says the exact cause of her condition isn't known, though a blood clot is a possibility.

Hospital officials contend a Texas law prohibits the withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant patient. Several experts interviewed by The Associated Press have said the hospital is misapplying the law.

On Wednesday, attorneys for the family said the fetus that Munoz is carrying, now believed to be at about 22 weeks' gestation, is "distinctly abnormal." Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek based their statement on medical records they received from the hospital.

"Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined," King and Janicek said, also noting the fetus has fluid building up inside the skull and possibly has a heart problem.

Munoz previously told the AP he wasn't confident about the fetus' health. His wife was 14 weeks pregnant when he found her unconscious and is believed to have been without oxygen for some time.

"You know what kind of damage my wife sustained, and what kind of possible damage the baby inside her sustained," he said during an interview earlier this month.

Spokeswomen for the hospital and the district attorney's office, which is representing the hospital in the lawsuit, declined to comment Wednesday.

Not much is known about fetal survival when mothers suffer brain death during pregnancy. German doctors who searched for such cases found 30 of them in nearly 30 years, according to an article published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2010.

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