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‘Marlise’s Law’ Could Give End-of-Life Rights to Pregnant Texans

Andrea Grimes

HB 3183 would strike a line in the state's advance directives code that bars the code from applying in cases where a patient is pregnant. Had such a law been in place in 2013, Marlise Muñoz's family would have been allowed to refuse mechanical support for her corpse.

The family of Marlise Muñoz, the pregnant Texas woman who was declared brain-dead in 2013 but whose body was kept on mechanical support against her wishes for months, testified on Wednesday in support of a proposed bill that would give end-of-life decision-making rights to pregnant Texans.

HB 3183 would strike a line in the state’s advance directives code that bars the code from applying in cases where a patient is pregnant. Had such a law been in place in 2013, Marlise Muñoz’s family would have been allowed to refuse mechanical support for her corpse. Instead, they were forced to take a North Texas county hospital to court in January 2014 to allow Muñoz—who was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed at home from a pulmonary embolism—to be taken off of machines.

“Our daughter was not in a coma or unconscious,” said Marlise Muñoz’s mother Lynne Machado, testifying in front of the state House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday afternoon. “Our daughter was dead.”

Currently, Texas law blocks pregnant people from being able to issue advance directives about their end-of-life care, requiring doctors and hospitals to keep pregnant Texans on mechanical support against their consent and regardless of their, or their families’ instructions.

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Erick Muñoz, Marlise’s husband, also testified in front of the committee, saying these end-of-life decisions should be “completely up to the family,” and not the state government.

“I could not do anything to help my wife,” he said. “Literally. Could not do anything to help my wife.”

Erick Muñoz testified that his wife’s health insurance paid for most of her forced medical interventions, and that John Peter Smith Hospital, where her body was held against her and her family’s will, waived the fees that he would have been responsible for on top of those insurance payments.

Representatives from anti-abortion groups testified against the bill, often drawing gasps from audience members in the hearing room who came out to support the Muñoz and Machado family.

Cecilia Wood, of the right-wing Concerned Women for America group, testified that she did not intend any “disrespect” for Marlise Muñoz’s family, but said that the “life of a pre-born child” necessitates that pregnant Texans be forced to remain on mechanical support against their wishes. Wood said she believed that it might “sound really horrible,” but in her opinion, “it would never have been okay to abide by the wishes of the family” in Marlise Muñoz’s case.

Wood said that the state should pay for these forced medical interventions, just as it pays to incarcerate people in jails and prisons.

Jeremy Newman, a representative from the anti-choice Texas Homeschool Coalition argued against HB 3183 because he believes it would infringe upon parental rights. Newman also testified that he “assumed” Marlise Muñoz, who worked as an EMT, could not have been aware of the meaning of her wishes to refuse mechanical support.

Later, an anti-choice doctor and representative from the Texas Alliance for Life testified that the law amounted to “micromanaging” and was legally unnecessary.

“I’m not an expert on this sort of medicine,” testified Dr. Beverly Nuckols, “but I do read a lot.”

When closing on the bill hearing, HB 3183 sponsor Rep. Elliott Naishtat asked aloud, “How can you give life-sustaining treatment to a person who is dead?”

The bill was left pending in committee, though another bill, HB 1901, directly counters the intention of “Marlise’s Law” and would force families like the Muñozes and Machados to take the state to court in order to remove their loved ones from mechanical support. It has not yet been assigned a hearing.

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