The medico-legal industry confronts vulnerable citizens

Jahi McMath, a disabled child in California, was disconnected from life support by order of a local judge.

Those who condemn Jahi's family appear to have no idea that doctor-decreed "brain death" is not sufficient as a declaration of death everywhere in the United States.  McMath family attorney Christopher Dolan, January 21, 2014, Facebook, “Keep Jahi McMath on Life Support.”
 
The forty-first anniversary of Roe v Wade permitting abortion throughout the United States was marked with the usual well-attended Marches and Walks for Life across the country.  Many speeches were delivered eloquently and passionately reminding us of the tremendous loss of respect and regard for human life through abortion. Many hopes were expressed and promises made, as well, that the United States would become aware of the victimization of women in this sordid business.
 
Noticeably lacking will be mention of the latest battle front in this war on humanity - brain death -  the upcoming segment in this advancing war on humanity.  This is the elephant in the room that no one wants to recognize. There are, basically, two reasons for this. End-of-life issues are harder to comprehend and some of the groups normally on the pro life side in abortion, are now moving to the support of those who would promote a new approach to the issue of when and how life should end, especially for the elderly, disabled and ill. It’s called Palliative care and is a legal definition of death designed to facilitate removal of organs for donation from “still breathing donors.”
 
End-of-life deals with issues such as: brain death, signing advanced medical directives, palliative care and organ donation. 
 
This issue was brought to the nation’s attention a few years back in the case in Florida of Terri Schindler Schiavo.  After several years of being in a comatose condition her husband who by then was in another relationship, sought through the courts to have her removed from life support. Her parents and brother fought persistently to keep her on life support. The husband and parents won. She died following a rather lengthy and distressful period of dehydration and starvation as a consequence of being denied food and fluids. Her former husband was soon re-married and the father of a child.
 
Previously, in 1993, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Robert Wendland, as a result of a car accident was in a coma and on life support for 16 months. He awoke but was totally dependent on others. His wife, Rose, filed to have his feeding tube removed and to be allowed to die. His mother intervened to keep him alive.  Finally, in 2001, the Calilfornia Supreme Court determined that the family’s word of mouth reports of claims by Robert that he would never want to be a “vegetable” were insufficient to remove his life support.  However, he had died a month earlier from pneumonia.
 
Last December the nation, once again, was confronted with a hospital declared brain death in the case of  the declaration by Oakland, California Children’s hospital that tonsillectomy patient Jahi McMath was brain dead.  The hospital officials said brain death is total and irreversible death.  The parents said, wait a minute, her heart is beating, she is moving, her bodily functions are operative, Jahi isn’t dead. Through their attorney they succeeded in getting Jahi released on January 7, 2014, from the firm grasp of the hospital and secreted her away to another facility where she is receiving medical care, according to a statement released on January 25 by the family attorney.
 
Now we have learned of another case, in the Fort Worth area near Dallas, Texas. Marlise Munoz, age 33, married only 7 months, mother of a year old boy and 22 weeks pregnant with her second child has been declared brain dead.
 
According to her husband he discovered her unconcscious on the floor of their home at 2:00 AM. They are both Emergency Medical team employees. According to the report provided by the husband Erick, he administered CPR and called for an ambulance. However, the hospital declared Marlise to be brain dead and placed her on life support because under Texas law, a pregnant women, even though declared brain dead must be placed on life support to support the life of the child in the womb at least until the child reaches the viability stage outside the womb, or at approximately 24 weeks.
 
California does not have such a law. In fact, California law on brain death is rather vague leaving the matter wide open for interpretation.
 
The husband and her parents hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit to require the hospital to take her off of life support because she had stated, verbally,  while still in good health, that she would not want to be placed on life support should that possibility occur. 
 
Question: If her husband knew that she didn’t want to be revived why did he initially try to revive her and call for an ambulance? And, why are her parents, as opposed to the parents of Robert Wendland and Jahi McMath, so anxious to have the mother of their child and grandchild declared dead and removed from any possibility of life support? Is it because they don’t want the possibly disabled child in the womb?
 
Another interesting fact here is the type of law practiced by the woman lawyer hired by Erick Munoz.  Heather L. King of the KoonsFuller Law firm of Southlake, Texas, is mainly a divorce lawyer.
 
On January 24 it was announced that R. H. Wallace, Jr., Judge of the 96th District Court in Tarrant County, Tx. handed down a decision favoring the husband, to remove Marlise from life support by 5:00 PM Monday January 27, 2014. He has apparently interpreted the law narrowly  to not include requiring pregnant but brain dead declared patients to be kept on life support in order to to maintain the second life involved, that of the preborn baby.
 
Marlise and the hospital has until Monday, January 27, 5:00 PM. During this time the hospital will decide if it will mount its own court case.
 
The author of the Texas law referred to in the Munoz case has an interesting background. Senator Ray Farabee, (D), a former Wichita Falls lawyer and Democrat Party activist from 1975 to 1988, was the author of the Texas Natural Death Act, which he was quoted as saying: “provides patients the opportunity to make their own end of life decisions. Texas didn’t have a legal definition of death.”  He also supported bills to encourage organ donations.
 
He included the paragraph about keeping pregnant women on life support perhaps for a personal reason.  He was born in 1932, 6 weeks early and not expected to live through the night.
 
Now Judge wallace has pretty much neutralized that clause by declaring that Marlise’s declaration of brain death precludes her being identified as a pregnant patient. She is dead.
 
Her preborn baby “is not viable” according to a statement contained in Court documents and contained in a family press release.
 
Science believes that at about the 24-26th week of gestational age there is approximately a 7-% chance of survival outside the womb. The Munoz baby is almost 23 weeks. This is why, I believe, that the husband and Marlise’s parents are pushing for a decision. They don’t want baby Munoz.
 
The hospital wants to adhere to the law as it was written viewing the preborn as the second patient. The husband, Marlise’s parents and the Judge have said that this baby is not worthy of life due to its presumed disabilities and therefore isn’t a patient as well.
 
During the time that Mrs Munoz has been in the hospital and receiving life support, the baby has continued to grow and develop. The child is now approximately 22 weeks gestational age. If the life support for the mother stops, the life support for the baby stops as well. The baby would die from starvation. 
 
Will they remove the baby from her womb or let him or her die in the womb? How long will it take for the baby to die inside the womb? It is now 22 weeks old. It is able to move. Will it struggle? Will the doctor remove the baby from the womb? Will it be removed immediately upon cessation of the mother’s life support or will they wait a couple of days while the baby dies. Will the baby’s organs be donated for research? Will this boy or girl be given a death certificate or a burial?
 
Is the fact of the existence of this child simply to be made to disappear?  Isn’t this fetal homicide? Fetal Homicide Laws, http://public.getlegal.com/articles/fetal-homicide-laws.
 
NEW DEVELOPMENT: Sunday, January 26, 1:21 PM, CBSNews.com announced that Texas Hospital removes brain-dead pregnant woman Marlise Munoz from life support.
 
“Hospital officials have said they were bound by the Texas Advance Directives Act, which prohibits withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient. But in his brief ruling, Wallace said that "Mrs. Munoz is dead," meaning that the hospital was misapplying the law. The ruling did not mention the fetus. The hospital has not pronounced her dead and has continued to treat her over the objections of both Erick Munoz and her parents, who sat together in court Friday.”
 
The Schiavo and Wendland cases  along with Washington v Glucksberg (1997) Vacco v Quill, 1997, have figured prominently in the development of end-of-life legal decisions and legislation in the last 20 or so years.  Henceforth the death and dying industry will be moving on to the next step and we will all be drawn into this discussion focusing on palliative care, definitions of brain death and removal of life support. 
 
Little help, it seems, will be coming soon from religion whose spokespersons seem to reflect the same confusion as do the laws. While there are definite and clear standards in the Catholic church regarding the taking of life, organizations representing the church in these matters are not so clear. The publication Catholic Guide to end-of-life decisions have not caught up with the most current developments.  They are still siding with the hospitals and legal definitions of brain dead as privacy matters and against parental wishes, at least that is how it appeared recently in the Jahi McMath case.
 
Everyone will be required to look upon the entry into a hospital with new eyes. The role of the hospital, the courts and religious ethics and morals are being thrust into a new era of life and death decisions and who controls what.  Right now we are all in a free fall, unknown and murky area. Who decides when we die and how we die or who is best served by our death?
 
Spero columnist Camille Giglio resides in California. 
 
END NOTES.
 
Still Breathing Donors. Dr. Robert Gordon, Pittsburg Press - May 12, 1985. Dr. Gordon may have been the first to coin the term, Still breathing donors.
 
CNN Health.  Texas judge: Remove brain-dead woman from ventilator, other machines, January 24, 2014. A breakthrough came when the hospital and the Munoz family agreed on crucial facts listed in a court document: that Marlise Munoz, 33, has "met the clinical criteria for brain death since November 28" and that "the fetus gestating inside Mrs. Munoz is not viable."
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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