Marlise Muñoz, her husband Erick and their first child. Muñoz became the subject of the abortion debate when she was declared brain dead during her second pregnancy. Her family was initially not allowed to remove her from life support.
A new bill introduced in Austin today seeks to give women full autonomy regarding end-of-life decision making.
The new piece of legislation, HB 3183
, which was announced at a press conference organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, removes restrictions from the Texas Health and Safety Code
that bar families and doctors from fulfilling the advance directives and do-no-resuscitate orders of pregnant women on life support.
The bill, authored by State Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin), is named after Marlise Muñoz, who doctors declared brain dead in 2013 after she suffered a pulmonary embolism. Muñoz became the center of a national debate on end-of-life medical intervention after her husband and family were unable to remove her from life support due to her 14-week pregnancy. Pro-life advocates argued that Muñoz should be artificially kept alive for the sake of the fetus, which was already growing abnormally.
Currently, Texas law prohibits pregnant women and their families from making their own decisions regarding the end-of-life care. Muñoz was taken off her ventilator on January, 27 2014, two months after her husband, Erick Munoz, found her unconscious on their kitchen floor. Two days prior, a Tarrant County judge ordered John Peter Smith Hospital to remove any means of artificial life support. The hospital maintains that it was simply following state law when the refused to honor the family's decision.
Muñoz did not have any written advance directives, but her husband and family claimed that she expressed a desire not to be kept alive via artificial measures, according to CNN
“Because of this onerous law, Marlise’s parents were forced to endure the unspeakable horror of sitting by their dead daughter’s bedside for 62 days until the courts forced the hospital to stop the machines and they could finally find peace," said ” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas during today's press conference.
Muñoz's family further testified the personal anguished they endured while their wife and daughter was kept alive via life support.
“What should have been an immensely private and personal moment for our family was used as a political debate. The doctors weren’t practicing medicine, they were practicing politics," Muñoz's mother Lynne Machado told the press
"I don’t want to tell any family what to do in such a difficult time with such a private decision. I just want every family to have the right to make the best decision for them without interference from the government,” Muñoz's husband said.
During today's press conference, Naishtat clarified the intent of his bill. "Marlise’s Law enables physicians, health care providers and medical institutions to honor a woman's wishes and personal values, and preserve the doctor-patient relationship. This bill does not preclude a woman from receiving medical treatment."
The bill is sure to reignite a complicated and emotional part of the broader debate regarding abortion and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her healthcare.