In the Byzantine land of Texas Law, it seems that an arcane piece of legislation passed in the 1980s is being used to usurp the wishes of a woman who died of a pulmonary embolism.
The diagnosis was crushing and irrevocable. At 33, Marlise Munoz was brain dead after collapsing on her kitchen floor in November from what appeared to be a blood clot in her lungs.
But as her parents and her husband prepared to say their final goodbyes in the intensive care unit at John Peter Smith Hospital here and to honour her wish not to be left on life support, they were stunned when a doctor told them the hospital was not going to comply with their instructions.
Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant, the doctor said, and Texas is one of more than two dozen states that prohibit, with varying degrees of strictness, medical officials from cutting off life support to a pregnant patient.
More than a month later, Munoz remains connected to life-support machines on the third floor of the ICU, where a medical team monitors the heartbeat of the fetus, now in its 20th week of development. Her case has become a strange collision of law, medicine, the ethics of end-of-life care and the issues swirling around abortion – when life begins and how it should be valued.This comes from the same kind of fetus fetishist logic that makes being pregnant some kind of sacred state. The problem is that these laws end up making the supposition that the fetus is somehow sacrosanct, and further that the woman is not a reasonable, intelligent agent.
Having a loved one die suddenly is traumatic enough. Having the state keep their body alive as an incubator for a fetus multiplies that trauma for the family even more so. Ultimately, in situations like this, the decision has to start with the woman's expressed wishes in the first place. The family's wishes after that. Sometimes, for the sake of the family, it is best to let things go, and that decision belongs to the family not the state.
When laws force the state to turn a dead person into a mindless incubator, they have become monsters themselves.
Truly, the hypocrisy of these laws is that they fetishize the fetus ... until birth. After birth, you're on your own.