HOUSTON -- A Fort Worth, Texas, hospital that kept a pregnant, brain-dead woman on life support for two months, followed a judge's order Sunday and removed her from the machines, ending her family's legal fight to have her pronounced dead and to challenge a Texas law that prohibits medical officials from cutting off life support to a pregnant woman.
On Friday, a state district judge ordered John Peter Smith Hospital to remove the woman, Marlise Munoz, 33, from life-support machines by 5 p.m. today. The judge ruled that the state law barring doctors from withdrawing "life-sustaining treatment" to pregnant women did not apply to Ms. Munoz because she was brain-dead and therefore legally dead.
The hospital had refused to honor the family's request to disconnect her, claiming that the law prevented them from doing so until they could perform a cesarean delivery.
But on Sunday, the hospital decided against appealing the judge's decision and announced that it would follow his ruling and that the fetus would not be born.
At about 11:30 a.m., Ms. Munoz was disconnected from the machines as her family gathered at her bedside in the hospital's ICU. Her body was released to her husband, Erick Munoz, the family's lawyers and a relative said.
Mr. Munoz, 26, a firefighter in a town near Fort Worth, had found his wife on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night in late November after she suffered an apparent blood clot in her lungs. He, as well as his wife's parents, Lynne and Ernest Machado, argued that she had died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
"The Munoz and Machado families will now proceed with the somber task of laying Marlise Munoz's body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered," Mr. Munoz's lawyers, Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek, said in a statement.
The hospital did not dispute that Ms. Munoz was brain-dead, saying in court papers that she met the clinical criteria two days after she was first brought to the hospital. But the hospital's lawyer said the law still applied to her, insisting it was part of the Texas Legislature's "commitment to the life and health of unborn children."
Ms. Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant with her second child when she first arrived at the hospital, on Nov. 26, and on Sunday had been at the end of her 22nd week of pregnancy.
The fetus was not viable, the hospital acknowledged in court papers. It suffered from hydrocephalus -- an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the cavities of the brain -- as well as a possible heart problem, and the lower extremities were deformed to the extent that the gender could not be determined.
Groups that oppose abortion had expressed support for the hospital's legal argument. A statement released by the National Black Pro-Life Coalition and Operation Rescue said the fetus deserved not to be killed, and that numerous people had expressed an interest in adopting the child when it was born, even if it had disabilities.