Texas Gets Between a Doctor and Patient After The Religious Right Demands It

Marlise_Machado_Mu-oz

Republicans have made the claim, ad nauseum, that government has no right getting between a patient  and their doctor and they use that phony argument to criticize the Affordable Care Act even though their claim is patently false. However, they have no qualms using the government to come between a patient and their doctor if the religious right demands it, and that is what is happening in Texas since a week after Thanksgiving.

Readers may remember the 2005 Terry Schiavo case when George W. Bush cut short his vacation to return to Washington and sign emergency legislation prohibiting Shiavo’s husband from disconnecting his brain dead wife from machines and removing feeding tubes that kept her body alive. A similar case is playing out in Texas where a state law prohibits family members from fulfilling their daughter’s wishes because she was 14 weeks pregnant at the time the pulmonary embolism killed her and deprived her brain of oxygen for over an hour. The woman, a paramedic, had expressed her wishes on several occasions that if she ever was in a situation requiring machines to keep her alive, she wanted to be disconnected and signed an advance medical directive to make sure her wishes were fulfilled.

The woman, Marlise Munoz, collapsed and died at home a week after Thanksgiving, but after being rushed to a hospital doctors used drugs, electric shocks, and machines to restart her heart; they could not undo the damage to her brain. Munoz is only alive because machines have kept her heart beating since November 26 and doctors confirm there is absolutely no brain activity. Her husband and parents want to honor her wishes and properly grieve for the 33-year-old former paramedic if Texas would allow it, but Texas is one of 12 states that regard pregnant brain dead women suitable as natural incubators. The obscure Texas law is serving its intended purpose to allow the religious right, not doctors, the woman, her husband, or family to decide when Marlise is taken off the machines keeping her heart beating. Regardless of the family’s wishes, they are secondary to the bible crowd forcing the Munoz family to wait until doctors take the likely severely damaged fetus to prove a point that their wishes to keep a body alive as an incubator takes precedence over the woman and her family’s wishes.

Munoz’s husband, Erick, said  ”I understood that the intent of the law was to protect the fetus, to help it survive if it was viable, but at 14 weeks, a fetus isn’t viable. We were told the fetus weighed between four and five ounces.” Marlise’s husband, also a paramedic, said “That poor fetus had the same lack of oxygen, the same electric shocks, the same chemicals that got her heart going again,” and that after such trauma, and an hour without oxygen, “it’s likely in the same condition that Marlise is in.” Doctors have not been able to assess the damage the  drugs, electric shocks and an hour without oxygen may have done to the fetus, but they are bound by state law to leave her on machines despite her advance directive and her family’s wishes to let her go in peace.

The family is likely sorry they brought the story to the media because it ignited a firestorm of hatred and vitriol from the pro-life crowd who accused the woman’s grief-stricken husband and father of wanting to “pull the plug” and “get rid” of his wife and baby. Mr. Munoz has had to shield the couple’s son from vicious comments coming from the religious right, pro-life crowd, and is likely in a state of shock himself that besides losing his wife, he has to deal with vile comments from so-called religious folk. He is probably going to have to deal with astronomical medical bills before the affair is finished, but he is too emotionally ravaged to even consider that Texas is not going to pick up the tab for a lengthy hospital stay due to their archaic and Draconian laws.

According to the Texas advance directives statutea person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient,” but according to some legal experts the hospital could take Munoz off life support without violating the law. Still, it is Texas and wary hospital officials continue to insist they must keep Munoz’s body alive to sustain the pregnancy. Some other states have similar laws, but they humanely take into account the fetal viability at the time of brain death, but Texas and 12 other states are not remotely humane.

This case is a tragedy for Marlise Munoz’s family that is being made worse by hate emanating from the pro-life crowd, and may send Mr. Munoz into bankruptcy when the hospital bill comes due. No insurance carrier is going to pay for keeping Marlise alive, especially when she had a legal advance medical directive expressing her wishes to be taken off life-support. It is just further proof that the religious right, pro-life groups, and Texas law intends to make women into birth machines even if they were dead for an hour, shocked back to life, and kept on a machine to serve as an incubator for a likely severely damaged fetus.

 

 

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