US hospital takes brain-dead pregnant woman off life support

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A brain-dead, pregnant woman was disconnected from life support on Sunday, Jan 26, 2014, at a hospital in Texas, ending a legal battle that had kept her on a ventilator against her family's wishes.

After a drawn-out court feud, a US judge on Friday ordered the hospital to comply with the family's request to pull the plug on Marlise Munoz, 33.

"Today, at approximately 11.30am... Marlise Munoz's body was disconnected from 'life support' and released to Mr (Erick) Munoz," her husband, lawyers representing the family said on Sunday in a statement.

The family "will now proceed with the sombre task of laying Marlise Munoz's body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered," attorneys Heather King and Jessica Janicek added.

Mrs Munoz was declared brain dead on Nov 28 when she was just 14 weeks pregnant.

Her case sparked a debate over medical rights and the consequences of legislative efforts to curtail abortion and grant rights to fetuses.

Mrs Munoz's husband and parents had fought to abide by what they said were her stated wishes and have her taken off machines that kept her body breathing.

But until Friday's decision, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth refused to remove the life support, arguing that while Mrs Munoz's brain could no longer keep her body alive and functioning, she was not actually dead.

The hospital then filed a court brief in which it finally agreed that the now 22-week-old fetus was "not viable."

Mrs Munoz's family had stated that medical records showed the fetus was "distinctly abnormal."

The hospital acknowledged that the past eight weeks have been "difficult" for the family, the caregivers and the local community as it dealt with the "sad situation".

"JPS Health Network has followed what we believed were the demands of a state statute," the hospital's parent group said in defending its position as it agreed to follow the court order on Sunday.

"JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it." Mrs Munoz, a paramedic, collapsed at her Texas home in late November due to a possible pulmonary embolism as she got up to care for her first-born son, who is now 15 months old.

Her husband Erick, also a paramedic, was able to resuscitate her. But she was suffering from cardiac arrest and respiratory failure when she arrived at hospital and could not be saved.

Texas is among 12 US states that have adopted strict laws requiring that a woman be kept alive if pregnant, regardless of the stage of her pregnancy.