Women's Issues

Brain Dead Woman’s Fetus Is ‘Distinctly Abnormal,’ Can You Let Her Go Now, Texas?

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Attorneys are preparing legal action on behalf of the family of Marlise Machado MunozMarlise Munoz has been brain dead since December 26. Against her family’s wishes, she has been kept alive because the hospital where she was taken will not withdraw “life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant patient. The hospital’s move is based on a Texas law that mandates such a decision. Her husband insists that she would not want to be kept alive in such a state. Now, there is proof that the fetus is “distinctly abnormal.” How long can this go on?

The family’s attorneys issued a statement about the fetus yesterday:

“Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent the gender cannot be determined,” the statement says.

In addition the statement says the fetus has swelling of the brain — “hydrocephalus” — as well as a possible heart problem.

“Quite sadly, this information is not surprising due to the fact that the fetus, after being deprived of oxygen for an indeterminate length of time, is gestating within a dead and deteriorating body, as a horrified family looks on in absolute anguish, distress and sadness,” the statement from Munoz’s lawyers Heather King and Jessica Janicek read.

This is unconscionable. A family is being tormented because of a law that shouldn’t even apply here. I am against decisions being made for women, regarding a  life they are hosting in all scenarios – but this one is especially troubling. Her husband insists the law should not apply to this case because she was essentially dead when she arrived at the hospital – therefore the hospital isn’t “sustaining life” at all. You can not give “life-sustaining treatment” to someone who is dead.

That this is even a debate that the family needs to have is infuriating. This woman is gone. Her family has every right to make the decisions regarding how to dispose of her body. A corpse is essentially being kept functioning to host the body of a baby that is developing abnormally and will most definitely be born with horrific medical problems.

I can’t imagine the horror of watching your daughter and wife essentially decompose in front of you. This is criminal. This family needs peace. The state of Texas needs to do the right thing here and let the family lay their loved ones to rest.

(photo: Getty Images)


  1. Kay_Sue

    January 23, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    This whole situation is sick. I hope the hospital will let her go now, so that this family can grieve and hopefully start to heal.

  2. kcf

    January 23, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    It was very hard to think about, but when my husband and I did our wills, we put our wishes for this type of situation in along with the usual items. We never would have thought of it on our own, but the attorney walked us through it.

    • Kay_Sue

      January 23, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      If you are in the US, hopefully you are in a state where that matters. I’m not. In our state, regardless of whether I expressly state it in my living will or DNR, I cannot be taken off life support if I am pregnant. It’s disgusting to think that my final wishes could be so disregarded, honestly. There’s a total of 26 states–over half! That’s mind-boggling to me!–where this is the law, and there is nothing that we, as women and autonomous beings, can do about it.

    • Benwhoski

      January 23, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      Do you happen to know where I can get a list of these states? My searches are failing and I’d really like to know.

    • Kay_Sue

      January 24, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      Sorry to have taken so long to respond! I actually bookmarked this link from the comments on another article.

      It lists all the states where your documents have no effect, those that have specific requirements that have to be met for them to take or not take effect, and those states with no statutes whatsoever, where your documents are effective regardless of whether you are pregnant or not.


    • SusannahJoy

      January 24, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Thank God the state I’m currently living in, the one I’m from, and the one my husband is from will all let my will count.

    • Chrissie

      January 23, 2014 at 4:09 pm

      In Texas, there is a law that says that a pregnant woman cannot be taken off life support even if the woman signed a directive saying that she wouldn’t want to be on life support. That’s just incredibly sad and frustrating. Unfortunately, even if a state doesn’t have such a law, I could still see the hospital challenging the family’s wishes thus prolonging the agony and involving the courts. It’s a shame.

  3. E

    January 23, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    It’s a sad, sad situation for her family. She’s dead and what made her *her* is long gone. I remember holding my daughter’s body after she passed away and it was sooooo much different than holding her when she was sleeping. Her body was there but she was gone. I can’t imagine how painful it’s been for her family to continue seeing her that way for the last 2 months.

    • Megan Zander

      January 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • Maria Guido

      January 23, 2014 at 5:46 pm

      Oh I’m so, so sorry.

  4. radicalhw

    January 23, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    OMG, this: “…the horror of watching your daughter and wife essentially decompose in front of you.” Horrible.

    • AugustW

      January 23, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      It’s accurate too. There is a reason there is a limited amount of time you can harvest organs, even on life support. Being forced to breathe doesn’t stop the process of decomposition. Texas may be too dumb to know death when it sees it, but the body (and all the bacterium it holds) know better.

  5. CMP414

    January 23, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    I feel so bad for her husband and family. Hopefully, this family finds some sense of peace soon.

  6. Megan Zander

    January 23, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    I’m disgusted. IMO The husband, as the other parent, should have been giving the decision over termination of the pregnancy once mom was placed on life support. So sad.

  7. Larry Drew SG

    January 23, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Wait, let’s not attack Texas for this. It’s a well meaning law to help preserve life where possible.

    Like all laws, it has unforeseen flaws. Hopefully they can get a judge to see that this is not the intent of the law and will allow the family’s wishes to be granted.

    • Mystik Spiral

      January 23, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      How is it EVER well-meaning to keep a corpse alive? It’s just another Texas law meant to define women as little more than incubators.

    • Teleute

      January 23, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      The flaws aren’t with the law; the flaws are with a bunch of morons being unable (or unwilling) to understand the goddamned law.

    • Rachel Sea

      January 23, 2014 at 5:32 pm

      The law is flawed too. It’s what happens when people who know nothing about medicine, or science make decisions about other people’s medical options.

    • Teleute

      January 24, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      The flaws in this case are with the interpretation of the law, not in the law itself. A dead person clearly isn’t a patient because death is NOT a medical condition.

      A law can be unjust without necessarily being flawed.

    • Kay_Sue

      January 23, 2014 at 6:09 pm

      I have to disagree. The law specifically states that this is applied regardless of the woman’s wishes. Even if this person had a DNR order, she would, quite possibly, be subjected to the same treatment, even if that order specifically covered pregnancy. That’s a flaw in the law to me.

    • Teleute

      January 24, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      Saying a law is flawed and a law is unjust are two separate issues. Terry Teague spoke of flaws inherent to the law, but the flaws here are in the interpretation of it. This is a crucial distinction to make if the family is going to win their case.

    • Kay_Sue

      January 24, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      I can see that, actually. The hospital is taking the law too far–she was brain dead. That’s dead. You can’t give life-sustaining treatment, in accordance to the law, to a corpse.

    • Alexandra

      January 24, 2014 at 10:51 am

      I think in this case, the “flaw” is that this should only apply to life sustaining medicine. This woman is DEAD. So they are no longer sustaining her life. The professor who WROTE the law is saying that it was not intended to be used this way and the hospital is wrong. That being said, some states are never going to respect a mother’s wishes if there’s a fetus at stake.

    • Teleute

      January 24, 2014 at 5:57 pm

      That’s the whole point. A corpse is not a patient, because death is not a medical condition.

    • AugustW

      January 23, 2014 at 10:10 pm

      I can see it making sense if the woman was 37 weeks along, maybe. But she was under the legal time for an abortion. They shouldn’t have kept it going.

    • keelhaulrose

      January 24, 2014 at 12:16 am

      It’s not a well-meaning law, it’s a law designed to take away the ability to make medical decisions away from doctors, the patient, and the family members, and give the only say in the situation to the state. It’s a law that dehumanizes a woman and essentially says she is no more than a piece of medical equipment, her wishes, her family’s wishes, and best medical practices be damned.

  8. Mystik Spiral

    January 23, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    So if this baby is born with hydrocephalus, the father has to endure AGAIN watching it slowly die…? Not to mention the high possibility of outlandish medical expenses he could incur.


    • Rachel Sea

      January 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      I agree it’s sick, but hydrocephalus is a manageable condition, so the hospital can argue that the baby might survive.

    • Bunny Lucia

      January 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm

      Can being so deformed from the waist down that you can’t tell what sex the baby is be a manageable condition?

      I know a girl who was born with no legs, but I’m pretty sure her torso was just fine.

    • Rachel Sea

      January 27, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Plenty of perfectly healthy babies are born with ambiguous genitals, and some very sick babies are born with no lower abdomen at all. Modern medicine means that people survive in spite of astonishing deformities.

      But just because a condition is manageable, doesn’t mean that it provides a decent quality of life. Rabid pro-lifers don’t care whether a fetus will have a life worth living, only that they are born alive.

  9. Pappy

    January 23, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    “Against her family’s wishes, she has been kept alive” No, against her family’s wishes, her corpse has been violated and forced to continue breathing. Marlise has been dead for almost a month.

    How do you claim to support following your deity’s will, and then violate it by forcing a dead body to stay breathing by using unnatural and invasive methods? It boggles my mind how people can say “Only god can decide when someone lives and dies,” and mean it, and not realize that by that logic they’re subverting their god’s will. Maybe god’s plan was for Marlise and her fetus to be dead and in heaven, and by keeping her corpse alive they’re actually doing the will of Satan. If the devil existed, I imagine he’d be delighted by the misery and suffering that Yahweh’s well-intentioned but misled followers are causing.

    • not an atheist

      January 23, 2014 at 5:21 pm

      I can not like this enough. No, really, it won’t let me up vote this more than once. But you are saying, rather eloquently, exactly what I find myself often thinking. Thank you.

    • Maria Guido

      January 23, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      You are so right.

    • Momma425

      January 23, 2014 at 6:19 pm

      This is literally disgusting and my worst nightmare to read about. I can’t even imagine how the poor husband must be feeling- his wife’s body is being used as a sick science experiment against his wishes and hers, AND if his child lives he will have to probably watch that child slowly die, AND he is having to pay what’s bound to be outlandish legal and medical expenses to boot.
      How does this even HAPPEN? How would someone ever EVER recover from this?

  10. Teleute

    January 23, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    “The [State of Texas] argues that the fetus is a ‘person’… If this suggestion of personhood is established, [Jane Roe’s] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.”

    — Justice Harry Blackmun, Roe v. Wade

    • SarahJesness

      January 23, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      Even if one argues that a fetus is a person with personhood rights… We still have to ask the question if the rights of the fetus should trump the rights of the mother. There is the argument that one is about life and the other is about health and bodily autonomy, but I’m pretty sure it’s not legal to force a healthy person to donate blood or bone marrow or an organ to a dying person.

    • Pappy

      January 23, 2014 at 7:37 pm

      And no pro-birther would support it even if they tried to make it legal. The “Right to Life trumps Right to Bodily Autonomy” argument only applies to women and their fetuses. I’ve watched them do some astounding moral gymnastics to show that men with viable organs and those in need of viable organs should not be held to this same standard.

      Or to it more comprehensibly: A fetus’ rights to life trumps a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, but a man’s right to bodily autonomy trumps a dying person’s right to life.

    • Teleute

      January 24, 2014 at 5:55 pm

      You’re missing the point. Again, if a fetus were established to be a LEGAL person, the fetus’ “right to life” would be GUARANTEED by the 14th Amendment, which would make the termination of a human fetus a homicide under ANY circumstances.

    • SarahJesness

      January 25, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      But what about “justifiable homicide”? You can kill someone in self-defense. A pregnancy has a huge effect on a woman’s body and her life, and not always positive.

    • Teleute

      January 26, 2014 at 11:56 am

      If a fetus ever became sentient and attacked its host, I’d say Mom would have more to worry about than whether or not she’d be brought up on charges for defending herself.

      I don’t understand how you can continue to argue this; it’s simple deductive logic. If fetuses were to become recognized as legal persons (which was clearly the agenda here), to terminate a fetus for ANY reason would be homicide.


  11. Rachel Sea

    January 23, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    Lawyers should not be practicing medicine. That law needs to overturned, stat.

    That poor family can’t bury her, that poor baby is going to be terribly disabled if it lives at all, and the lot of them are going to be bankrupted by the cost of keeping a corpse metabolizing.

    Those legislators should have to sit vigil at her bedside, and watch what horror they have wrought.

  12. kay

    January 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Whenever I see cases like this (a family having to fight courts over a dead loved one) I feel awful for them-they deserve to mourn and to come to terms with their loss. Instead of being able to remember their loved one, find closure, etc they’re stuck doing this terrible legal battles. I can’t even imagine.

  13. keelhaulrose

    January 23, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    It’s Texas. They’re going to fight for this baby to be born, then throw it to the wolves in the unlikely event it survives. And probably sick the husband with the bill.
    It’s not a well intentioned law, pregnant woman who would want to be kept breathing for the baby would have, it’s just forcing families to keep women “alive” as an incubator. It’s reducing a woman to no more than a piece of medical equipment with no thought to her dignity, and the suffering of her loved ones.

    • jendra_berri

      January 23, 2014 at 9:12 pm

      “It’s reducing a woman to no more than a piece of medical equipment with no thought to her dignity, and the suffering of her loved ones.”

      Yeah. At this point, it’s essentially a really twisted science experiment using a dead woman and her fetus.

  14. jendra_berri

    January 23, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Oh Christ… they’re going to bring this poor wretched little life into this world?! Deformed, swollen brain, I just can’t even. They’re forcing into existence a human being who will suffer and die, who was gestated inside a dead mother, whose family just wants to grieve and will have to manage yet another loss when the fetus is harvested.

    This is the shit of horror movies. Just let her go, let her fetus go quietly. This is an act against everything that is nature. The dead do not remain pregnant. I can’t conceive of a single way this is not demented.

  15. Jem

    January 23, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    If the law is being upheld in this way, it could have far scarier implications. What’s stopping them from giving a pregnancy test to any woman of child bearing age who dies? and then forcibly hooking them up to “life support” if they ARE pregnant?

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      January 24, 2014 at 10:19 am

      it’s terrifying to think we could all literally be “grown” in a corpse.
      reminds me of that scene in the matrix, all the babies being grown in pods.
      this is essentially what they are doing, and frankly, it scares the shit out of me

  16. Edify

    January 23, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Horrific. And when/if the fetus miscarries or tries to deliver too early, will they try to prevent it?

  17. Mikster

    January 23, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    Totally agree. It’s ghoulish, appalling and I consider gross abuse of a corpse by the state.

  18. tSubh Dearg

    January 24, 2014 at 3:46 am

    I live in a country where women do not have access to abortion and have to travel to neighbouring countries to get one, but I don’t think even we would do something like this. Though we will let women die rather than abort a miscarrying fetus.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      January 24, 2014 at 10:19 am

      thank you for mentioning that horrific incident! the similarities are insane!

  19. mom21

    January 24, 2014 at 6:28 am

    I read recently of a case where the wife wanted to harvest sperm from her brain dead husband. It was ruled a violation of the man’s rights. Texas has a law that literally makes women sub-human. Why don’t people get angry in this country? Stop talking about celebs and let’s do something about it!

  20. gothicgaelicgirl

    January 24, 2014 at 10:16 am

    this poor woman, she’s become a zombie in order for stupid doctors to test her out as an experiment.
    think about it, in the bluntest terms, and i do not wish to upset anyone but she’s a real life frankenstein, they are trying to keep a living body inside a dead body.
    this is beyond sick and is causing so much unnecessary heartache for the family.
    selfish isn’t even the word to describe these idiotic policies.

  21. keelhaulrose

    January 25, 2014 at 12:41 am

    The judge has decided that since Marlise is dead the law no longer applies to her, and has ordered the hospital to take her off life support by Monday.
    It’s nice to see someone in the Texas judiciary has a brain, this nearly makes up for ‘affluenza’.

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