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Pregnancy and Life Support in Texas


The recent case regarding termination of life support for Marlise Muñoz, decided this past Friday, has gained significant attention from national and international news networks due to both its tragic personal elements and to the conflicting legal and ethical concerns involved in the dispute.  For legal scholars wishing to contribute to the dialogue over this case but stymied by a lack of precise legal citation in popular news reports, the following citations and resources may be of interest:

The case is Muñoz v. John Peter Smith Hospital, No. 096-270080-14 (96th Dist. Ct., Tarrant County, Tex. Jan. 24, 2014).

A copy of the final order terminating life support is hosted by the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney.

Texas statutes cited by the parties to this case include:
  • Tex. Health & Safety Code § 166.039. Procedure When Person Has Not Executed or Issued a Directive and is Incompetent or Incapable of Communication. 
    • Section (b)(1) assigns the patient’s spouse the highest priority for the purpose of making the decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment.
  • Tex. Health & Safety Code § 166.049.  Pregnant Patients. 
    • “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.”
  • Tex. Health & Safety Code § 671.001.  Standard Used in Determining Death. 
    • Section (c): “Death must be pronounced before artificial means of supporting a person's respiratory and circulatory functions are terminated.”
  • Texas Penal Code § 1.07.  Definitions. 
    • Section (a)(26): “‘Individual’ means a human being who is alive, including an unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.”

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