Fort Worth Hospital Complies With Judge's Order, Removes Marlise Munoz From Life Support

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Update: On Sunday, Marlise Munoz was allowed to die.

According to attorneys for her family, Fort Worth's JPS Hospital removed Munoz, 23 weeks pregnant, from life support at about 11:30 a.m. Her body was released to her husband, Erick Munoz.

The hospital had announced earlier in the day that it would not appeal Judge R.H. Wallace's ruling ordering it to discontinue treatment.

"From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it," JPS said in a statement. "On Friday, a state district judge ordered the removal of life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Munoz. The hospital will follow the court order."

Original post, 6:58 p.m. January 24 Marlise Munoz's husband, Erick, kept his head down, quietly sobbing, as Judge R.H. Wallace calmly repeated what was obvious to everyone in the courtroom, even the hospital fighting to keep his wife's body on life support. "Mrs. Munoz is dead," Wallace said, citing a definition of death under the Texas Health and Safety Code. But after months seeing Marlise Munoz kept on life support against their wishes, her family can't close this chapter in their long ordeal just yet. John Peter Smith Hospital has until Monday at 5 p.m. to decide whether it will appeal the judge's ruling.

Asked for her take on the hospital getting that opportunity, Erick Munoz's attorney Jessica Janicek only repeated that the hospital has until Monday to appeal. "That's my take," she said. "I hope not, but if they appeal we will respond accordingly."

Both sides agree that Marlise Munoz has been clinically brain-dead since her husband found her unconscious in late November and that her fetus, now about 22 weeks old, has little chance of developing into a healthy baby, if it even survives. Yesterday, Munoz's attorneys had described the fetus as "distinctly abnormal." And earlier today the hospital had said in a court filing that Munoz has "met the clinical criteria for brain death" since November 28, and that her fetus is "not viable."

Despite acknowledging that, the hospital has essentially taken the stance that a sickly fetus inside a dying body required them to keep Munoz on life support.

The hospital has argued that removing life support "would cause the death of the unborn child," thus violating section 166.049 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. The code says that "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment ... from a pregnant patient."

But whether that state law is constitutional in this case is an argument that Judge Wallace wouldn't touch. He simply ruled that the mother is already dead. "In light of that ruling, the Court makes no rulings on the Plaintiff's constitutional challenges to Section 166.049," the ruling says.

After he announced his decision, as much of the court cleared out, Erick Munoz remained with his attorney and family. Janicek asked him if he wanted to talk to reporters. He shook his head "no." She assured him that it was OK.

Shortly afterward, the hospital issued a statement to the public providing little clarity on whether or not the fight is actually over. The hospital's managers still need time to think: "JPS Health Network appreciates the potential impact of the consequences of the order on all parties involved and will be consulting with the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office."

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