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Jan 26, 2014 3:42 PM by Associated Press

Family: Brain-dead Texas woman off life support

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - The family of a brain-dead, pregnant Texas woman said Sunday afternoon that she has been removed from life support following a judge's ruling that a Fort Worth hospital was misapplying state law in the case.

A statement sent Sunday afternoon by lawyers for the husband of Marlise Munoz said she was disconnected from life support about 11:30 a.m. CST (1730 GMT).

It said her body was released to her husband, Erick Munoz, and that the family is now looking to lay her body to rest.

The family "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," the statement said.

The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. It also has garnered attention on both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Munoz's fetus deserves a chance to be born.

Earlier Sunday, J.R. Labbe, a spokeswoman for John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, issued a statement saying the hospital "will follow the court order" issued Friday in the case of Marlise Munoz.

"From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it," the statement said. "On Friday, a state district judge ordered the removal of life-sustaining treatment from Marlise Munoz. The hospital will follow the court order."

Judge R.H. Wallace had given the hospital until 5 p.m. (2300 GMT) Monday to comply with his ruling to remove Munoz from life support, which Erick Munoz says is what his wife would have wanted.

She was 14 weeks pregnant when her husband found her unconscious Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot.

Both the hospital and family agreed before Wallace's ruling that Marlise Munoz meets the criteria to be considered brain-dead - which means she is dead both medically and under Texas law - and that her fetus, at about 23 weeks, could not be born alive this early in pregnancy.

Erick and Marlise Munoz, both paramedics, had seen life and death up close and he previously told The Associated Press that his wife was clear with him: If she fell into a condition like this, pull life support and let her die.

Munoz described in a signed affidavit Thursday what it was like to see his wife on life support: her glassy, "soulless" eyes; and the smell of her perfume replaced by what he knows to be the smell of death. He said he tried to hold her hand but can't.

"Her limbs have become so stiff and rigid due to her deteriorating condition that now, when I move her hands, her bones crack, and her legs are nothing more than dead weight," Munoz said.

But the hospital argued it was bound by Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient, regardless of her end-of-life wishes.

Legal experts interviewed by The Associated Press have said the hospital was misreading the law and that the law doesn't have an absolute command to keep someone like Munoz on life support.

Larry Thompson, a state's attorney arguing on behalf of the hospital Friday, said the hospital was trying to protect the rights of the fetus as it believed Texas law instructed it to do. Texas is one of 12 U.S. states that automatically invalidate a pregnant woman's advance health care directive.

"There is a life involved, and the life is the unborn child," Thompson said.

But on Sunday, the hospital backed down in the face of the judge's order.

"The past eight weeks have been difficult for the Munoz family, the caregivers and the entire Tarrant County community, which found itself involved in a sad situation," the hospital's statement said. "JPS Health Network has followed what we believed were the demands of a state statute."

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