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Texas man sues to have pregnant wife taken off life support

By Jana J. Pruet

SOUTHLAKE, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas man filed a suit on Tuesday to force a hospital to remove his pregnant, brain-dead wife from life support, challenging a state law that hospital officials say requires them to keep her on a ventilator.

Marlise Munoz has been on life support in a hospital in Fort Worth since November 26 after suffering what her husband, Erick, believes was a pulmonary embolism.

Erick Munoz and other members of her family want her removed because doctors told them she is brain dead, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in a state district court.

"Marlise Munoz's death is a horrible and tragic circumstance, but by no means should (the hospital) be entitled to continue cutting into her deceased body in front of her husband and family under the guise of 'life sustaining' treatment," the suit says.

The couple, both paramedics and married since last April, had decided together that they would not want to be kept on life support if the situation arose, and they had informed family of that decision, the suit says.

Officials at John Peter Smith hospital in Fort Worth declined to comment on the suit but have maintained they are following Texas law which forbids the removal of pregnant patients from "life-sustaining treatment."

"The courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction and resolution in this matter," hospital officials said in a statement last week, after learning Munoz had retained an attorney. "JPS remains focused on providing compassionate care to all patients while also following the law as it applies to healthcare in the state of Texas."

The hospital is part of a publicly funded county health system in Fort Worth.

Erick Munoz found his wife unconscious on the kitchen floor when she was 14 weeks pregnant and is worried the fetus may have been injured by a blood clot that cut off the flow of oxygen and nutrients in Marlise's body, he told Dallas broadcaster WFAA.

Under Texas state law, a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient, even if there is a "do not resuscitate" request from the patient or the family of the patient seeks to end life support.

The suit argues the law is not applicable because she is considered legally dead, and because it specifies the pregnant patient, not the fetus.

If a judge rules that it does apply, the suit says, then the law is confusing and unconstitutional and should be struck down.

The law "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," the suit says.

(Reporting by Jana J. Pruet; Writing by Karen Brooks; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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