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Judge Tells Hospital To Take Pregnant Woman Off Life Support

A North Texas judge has ordered a Fort Worth hospital to remove life support from a woman who is 22 weeks pregnant. Her family says Marlise Munoz, 33, is brain-dead. She has reportedly not been awake since November, when she was discovered unconscious in her home. Doctors say she had suffered a pulmonary embolism.

At that time, Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant. Since then, a debate has raged about whether she should be kept alive. Many of the questions center on the details of Munoz's condition, and on state laws about terminating the life of a pregnant woman.

State District Judge R.H. Wallace ordered county-owned John Peter Smith Hospital to stop providing Munoz with life-sustaining treatments and to remove her from life support by 5 p.m. Monday, reports the Fort WorthStar-Telegram.

The judge's decision grants a request that came from Munoz's husband, who filed papers with the court saying she met the criteria for being declared brain-dead on Nov. 28, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Erick Munoz is a paramedic. And as the newspaper reports, "His wife was also a paramedic and he said she made her wishes clear to him and her parents that she never wished to be kept on life support."

Update at 7 p.m. ET: Hospital Agreed On Two Crucial Points

Today's decision came after the hospital acknowledged two key arguments put forth by Erick Munoz's attorneys, according to a story on NPR member station KERA's site.

The hospital "declared publicly for the first time that Munoz has indeed been brain dead since late November," KERA reports. "The hospital also says the fetus inside Muñoz is 'not viable.'"

Our original post continues:

KERA's Lauren Silverman has been following the case in Texas. Here's some background, from Lauren's report on Munoz for today'sMorning Edition:

"Her family says it has medical evidence that she's brain-dead. But John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth has refused to disconnect Munoz from life-support machines, citing the Texas Advance Directives Act concerning end-of-life care. It includes this provision: 'A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.' ...

"This week, attorneys for Munoz's husband released a statement describing the fetus as 'distinctly abnormal,' with heart problems, deformed lower extremities and hydrocephalus, or water on the brain."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.