The attorneys of Passen & Powell often represent families of those who have been catastrophically injured — in car or truck accidents, by dangerous products, in workplace accidents . Sometimes family members are faced with making end-of-life decisions.
The latter part of January 2014 finally brought closure to a two-month long battle between Marlise Munoz’s family and the state of Texas. Mrs. Munoz, mother of a 15-month-old child and pregnant with a second, collapsed in her home as a result of a massive pulmonary embolism. She suffered catastrophic brain damage and was declared brain dead shortly after, and placed on life support.
Marlise and her husband were Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). They had discussed prior to this their wishes in this type of situation. Her husband and family informed the hospital of her wishes and requested she be taken off life support. Marlise’s family agreed.
What followed was a two-month long grueling battle between John Peter Smith Hospital and her family.
According to Texas law, “…a person may not withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation or certain other life-sustaining treatment designated…under this subchapter (the advance directive law) … from a person known…to be pregnant.”
This law was meant to protect the unborn child’s life from being terminated along with the mother’s, if there was a chance the fetus could sustain life. Illinois’ statute is very similar to this. Both of them involve advance directives, which are legal documents that define a person’s wishes for end-of-life treatment.
The Illinois statute indicates that the advance directive of a woman who is pregnant shall be given no force or effect if, according to the attending physician, the fetus could develop to live birth. This means that, if you are pregnant and are able to sustain life with life support, “even if you sign a living will, food and water cannot be withdrawn if it would be the only cause of death.”
Illinois law contains the provision that a doctor must determine that the fetus has a chance of developing to live birth, whereas Texas has no such provision. These provisions, apparently, are intended for patients who are in a vegetative state, or terminally ill, or other situations such as these. They presume that patient is still alive, though.
In the Munoz’s case, it was known that the fetus suffered a severe lack of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs, resulting in catastrophic brain injury, deformed lower extremities, and heart defects.
The judge ruled in favor of the family, and life support was removed from Marlise Munoz after two long, agonizing months. We are forced to consider whether advance directives really do provide the assurance we believe they do. In all actuality, they are very imprecise because there is no way to plan for unusual situations like the Munoz case.
“Marlise has a fundamental right to make medical decisions regarding her own body,” her husband contended in the motion … To take those rights away from Marlise, and force her to be subject to various medical procedures simply because she is pregnant, is a gross violation of her constitutional right.”
We understand that end-of-life decisions involve personal religious, moral, and legal issues, and we believe that a patient’s family, in conjunction with their medical professionals, are in the best position to make these types of decisions.
To speak with Passen & Powell regarding a serious personal injury or death caused by the negligence of another, call us at 312-527-4500 for a Free Consultation.