Several weeks ago we told you about Marlise Munoz, a pregnant Texas woman who was left brain-dead after suffering a pulmonary embolism. Her husband, Eric Munoz, has, ever since his wife was admitted to a Fort Worth-area hospital, been fighting to have her removed from life support because he says she would not have wanted it. What stood in his way, however, was the Texas law preventing Marlise’s doctors from removing the pregnant patient from life-sustaining treatments even if the woman wished to have such treatments removed. In late January, a Texas court ruled that Marlise Munoz was legally dead, that her fetus was not viable, and ordered her hospital to remove her from life support.
Brain-Dead, Pregnant, and on Life Support
The story of Marlise Munoz has made national headlines and once again has drawn attention to the issue of advance directives, medical wishes, and differences in state law. There was never any question about Marlise’s medical wishes. Though she didn’t have an advance directive, she and her husband were experienced paramedics who had discussed the issue of refusing artificial life support if they were ever brain-dead.
Though Marlise’s wishes were clear, Texas law prevented her doctors from complying with them. This gave Eric Munoz only one choice; go to court. Because many other states have similar advance directives laws that do not allow pregnant women to make medical choices in the event they become incapacitated, a similar result would likely have happened if the case arose elsewhere.
The Munoz case highlights, once again, the importance that medical directives play in our lives. Though you may consider it unlikely that you or anyone in your family will ever be incapacitated, not having a directive in place is never an ideal situation. At the very least, medical directives allow you to express yourself. They allow you to tell your family exactly what you do, and do not, want if you’re incapacitated. Without a directive in place to guide your family, it’s very possible that family members could have serious disagreements over your care. These disagreements can easily lead to hurt feelings, broken relationships, and in some situations, lengthy and costly court battles.
New York Advance Directives
Unlike the state of Texas, the State of New York’s advance directive laws do not restrict pregnant women from using these important legal documents. In New York, every capable adult can create both a living will and a health care proxy. These two directives give people the ability to express their medical wishes, as well as the ability to appoint someone who will make decisions on their behalf in the event of incapacitation.