Texas Right to Life, a prolife advocacy group based in Houston, has weighed into the controversy concerning Marlise Muñoz, an expectant mother who is currently on life support in a Texas hospital. In a statement on the group’s website, TRL president Elizabeth Graham wrote, “Mrs. Munoz’s tragic circumstance involves two patients who must be considered. Furthermore, Texas Right to Life is greatly troubled by the definitive tone with which physicians are concluding that Mrs. Munoz is brain dead because that term is often misused, and because the criteria to make such a determination varies from doctor to doctor and from hospital to hospital. The lack of objectivity in the diagnosis of brain death allows for misapplication.”
The New York Times reported on Jan. 8 in a story entitled “Pregnant, and Forced to Stay on Life Support” the 33-year-old Marlise Muñoz who collapsed at her home in November 2013 of an apparent pulmonary blood clot. The article described the diagnosis as “crushing and irrevocable,” and that her husband and parents prepared themselves to bid her farewell. Various media reports note that attending physicians found no neurological activity in Mrs. Munoz brain.
According to the Times, Mrs. Muñoz had previously asked that she not be left on life support in such a situation. However, when medics at the John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth determined that Mrs. Muñoz was 14 weeks pregnant, a physician told the family that because of Texas law both she and her baby would be kept alive. Texas is one of two dozen states that prohibit, variously, the cutting off of life support to expectant mothers. “It’s not a matter of pro-choice and pro-life,” said Lynne Machado, 60, Mrs. Muñoz’s mother, according to the Times. “It’s about a matter of our daughter’s wishes not being honored by the state of Texas.”
In her statement, Texas Right to Life president Graham continued, “Based on the information made public, Mrs. Munoz is not experiencing multi-system organ failure or cell disintegration, and her body is supporting the growth of the child within her -- all signs to indicate that her brain, though impaired or quiescent, is still ordering her physiological functions at some level.”
Critics of the law that keeps Mrs. Muñoz alive were quick to emerge. For example, Amanda Marcotte of Slate Magazine headlined her article “Brain-Dead Woman Forced to Stay on Life Support Because She’s Pregnant” while Salon’s Katie McDonough added, “Texas Family Describes “Pure Hell” of Being Forced to Keep their Loved One on Life Support.” The Dallas Times issued an editorial on January 9 saying 'Let Marlise Munoz Die.'
Elsewhere, support for Texas law and the Muñoz family was voiced. For example, on January 6, show host Norah O’Donnell joined a panel on CBS’ “This Morning” with co-anchor Charlie Rose and legal analyst Jack Ford to debate the controversy. O’Donnell argued for the baby, saying, “But in this case, it involves another life. It involves a baby. She’s pregnant, and now that baby is 18 weeks old and, you know, eight weeks maybe, less before viability.”
However, other network personalities were less supportive of keeping Mrs. Muñoz on life support. For example, Susan Donaldson James of ABC reported, “Husband Wants Pregnant Wife Off Life Support” while Ryan Jaslow of CBS reported, “Texas Life Support Battle Pits State Law Against Pregnant Woman’s Earlier Wishes.” Besides the above-named critics, others compared Mrs. Muñoz to a robot. Doug Barry of Jezebel said “Texas Will Keep a Dead Woman on Life Support Just to Incubate Her Fetus.” The Huffington Post wrote, “Marlise Munoz, Brain-Dead Texan Woman, Kept Alive To Incubate Unborn Baby.”
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.