Judge Recuses Herself from Life Support Pregnancy Case
(TARRANT COUNTY, Texas) -- A Texas judge has recused herself from hearing a lawsuit against a Fort Worth hospital regarding a woman who is brain dead, pregnant and on life support against her family's wishes. Judge Melody Wilkinson of Tarrant County District Court recused herself on Thursday but did not give a reason for her recusal. She requested to have another judge assigned to the case.
The family of Marlise Munoz sued John Peter Smith Hospital on Tuesday, in order to have Munoz removed from life support.
Munoz, a 33-year-old paramedic, was 14 weeks pregnant when a suspected pulmonary embolism left her brain dead two months ago. But doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital told her family a Texas law forbade them from withdrawing life support until the baby's birth or a miscarriage occurs.
"It's very frustrating, because we know what our daughter wanted, and we're not about to honor that because of this law," Lynne Machado, Munoz's mother, told ABC News last month. "The grieving process as a whole for me and my husband and Erick [Munoz's husband] won't happen until she's off life support."
According to the motion filed in Tarrant County District Court on Tuesday, another state law may trump the law that forbids the hospital from withdrawing life support. The Texas Health and Safety Code defines death as the "irreversible cessation of the person's spontaneous respiratory and circulatory functions," the motion reads. Since Munoz has lost all brain stem activity, this law could apply to her, it says.
Munoz's husband, Erick, "vehemently" opposes continued life support, and would like to bury his wife, the motion states. The hospital has interpreted the law in a way that "makes no sense and amounts to nothing more than the cruel and obscene mutilation of a deceased body against the expressed will of the deceased and her family," it reads.
The family hopes that the judge orders the hospital to remove Munoz from life support, and that he finds that the law keeping her on it is unconstitutional.
Because John Peter Smith Hospital is a local public hospital, the Tarrant County District Attorney's office will represent it. The office had no comment on the suit or the judge's recusal.
Munoz got out of bed in the middle of the night on Nov. 26 because the couple's 14-month-old son, Mateo, began to cry, Machado said. When the baby continued to cry and Munoz didn't return, Munoz's firefighter husband got up, too. That's when he found Munoz on the kitchen floor. She was not breathing and had no pulse. Her skin had taken on a bluish color, Machado said.
Doctors suspect she had a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in the lungs, but they won't know until an autopsy can be performed, Machado said.
"It's hard to reach the point where you wish your wife's body would stop," Erick Munoz told ABC News' Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate WFAA-TV.
Machado initially said family members wouldn't fight the law until after her daughter was finally taken off life support because she thought the hospital's hands were tied by the law, and didn't blame the doctors for the situation. But they wanted the public to know that this can happen.
Although Internet commenters have made the family's situation into an abortion rights issue, Machado said the family has shared its story to educate the public about a law it never knew existed.
"Hopefully, no family has to go through this hell we've had to go through," she said.
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