News Law and Policy

Louisiana Committee Passes Bill Preventing Removal of Mechanical Support From Pregnant Women

Teddy Wilson

The state's House Health and Welfare Committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that would prohibit a family from directing physicians to remove mechanical support from a brain-dead pregnant woman.

A bill that would make Louisiana the 13th state to invalidate any advance directives when a patient is pregnant, regardless of the viability of the fetus, is moving through the state legislature. The state’s House Health and Welfare Committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that would prohibit a family from directing physicians to remove mechanical support from a brain-dead pregnant woman.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans), is being considered shortly after a man in Texas fought back after a hospital said it had no choice but to keep his wife, who had been declared brain-dead, on mechanical support to continue her pregnancy, despite her end-of-life directives and family’s wishes. The case drew national attention and debate over the role state government should play in determining end-of-life decisions of pregnant women.

Last November, Marlise Munoz was hospitalized and placed on mechanical support after collapsing in her home during the 14th week of her pregnancy. Munoz’s husband, Erick, said that he and his wife had previously talked specifically about not wanting “to be kept alive by machines.” However, according to Texas law, the hospital could override those wishes and attempt to save her fetus.

While the public debate ignited by Munoz’s story focused much on “pro-choice” or “pro-life” ideologies, the Munoz family did not view it in that light. Munoz’s mother, Lynne Machado, told Rewire, “This is about educating the public of a law that people don’t know about, and hopefully avoiding the pain and, frankly, the pure hell we’ve all gone through with this situation.”

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In January, two months after Munoz collapsed in her home, she was removed from mechanical support under an order, which the hospital did not appeal, issued by the 96th District Court of Tarrant County, Texas.

Louisiana’s bill, HB 1274, which was originally filed as HB 348, would create a similar law in Louisiana that the Munoz family fought against in Texas. The bill would prohibit the “withholding or withdrawing of life-sustaining procedures from a pregnant woman.” The bill does make exceptions for when maintaining mechanical support would not “permit the continuing development and live birth of the unborn child,” or would be “physically harmful to the pregnant woman,” or “[c]ause pain to the pregnant woman that cannot be alleviated by medication.”

The original version of the bill, HB 248, had broader implications, including a provision that would have superseded “do not resuscitate” orders and other legal documents that a woman may have in place to be kept off mechanical support.

HB 1274 now moves to the full house for debate and vote.

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