The Right to Life and the Right to Die

By Mike Appleton, Weekend Contributor

“We strongly believe that the order that let to the termination of life support is in complete contradiction to Texas law that was enacted to protect pre-born babies just like the Munoz child. The courts have failed this baby, the attorneys who should have defended Texas law has failed this baby, and the hospital has failed this baby. May this tragedy serve as a wake-up call to our society, lest others wrongly fall victim to this dehumanizing utilitarian view of life and death.”

-Operation Rescue, Press Release, January 26, 2014

“It never occurred to us that anything in the statute applied to anyone who was dead. The statute was meant for making decisions for patients with terminal or irreversible conditions.”

-Thomas Mayo, associate professor of law, Southern Methodist University School of Law (quoted in Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 24, 2014)

When Tarrant County district judge R. H. Wallace, Jr. decided the case of Erick Munoz v. John Peter Smith Hospital, the judgment required only two paragraphs. “The provisions of Section 166.049 of the Texas Health and Safety Code,” he wrote, “do not apply to Marlise Munoz because Mrs. Munoz is dead.” Given this conclusion, it became unnecessary to consider the constitutionality of the statute, and the court declined to do so.

The court’s ruling was sane and rational. But in my opinion it was also obvious. And that raises the issue of why the hospital refused to respect the wishes of the Munoz family without a court order, despite its admission in court filings that a medical determination of brain death had been made by November 28th of last year.

The hospital was certainly not concerned with liability to the Munoz family, who repeatedly requested the termination of life support. Was it worried about potential prosecution for violating the statute? Were that the case, it could have filed an action for declaratory relief itself. At the beginning of the controversy, J.R. Labbe, the hospital’s spokesperson, stated that the decision to continue life support had been “easy.” But when the hospital complied with the court order earlier today, Ms. Labbe stated, “From the onset, JPS has said its role was not to make nor contest law but to follow it.”

The hospital unnecessarily prolonged the anguish of the Munoz family for almost two months, taking no action and forcing Mr. Munoz to file suit himself. It then quietly complied with the court order without acknowledging that it had any more responsibility for the impasse than that of the average bystander. It is reasonable to argue that the hospital’s decision-making was more heavily influenced by political and religious considerations than by legal or bioethical analysis. Those considerations go to the heart of this tragedy and they remain unaddressed.

The statute at issue in the Munoz case is a provision in the advance care directives laws of Texas that forbid withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient. The statute, similar to those in a number of other states, is actually a type of nullification act. It does not recognize a woman’s constitutional right to privacy described in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). It contains no exceptions based upon the viability of the fetus or the medical condition of the pregnant patient.

Similarly, the statute fails to acknowledge the right of a terminally ill patient to require that life-sustaining treatment be withheld or withdrawn, a right recognized in Cruzan v. Director, Mo. Dept. of Health, 497 U.S. 291 (1990) and Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997). In essence the Texas legislature has declared that the rights of a terminally ill pregnant woman are subordinate in all respects to the rights of the fetus, regardless of the stage of gestation or the consequences to a dying woman of maintaining the pregnancy. What the hospital did in the Munoz case was attempt to extend this control to a point even beyond death.

The court was unable to confront these constitutional infirmities in the Munoz case. While the Munoz family can finally mourn the loss of a wife and daughter and mother,  it will likely require that another family suffer another tragedy before this statute can be successfully challenged.



30 thoughts on “The Right to Life and the Right to Die”

  1. Swarthmoremomom, this claiming that it is Democrats who disrespect women, not Republicans, looks like it’s going to be the Republicans’s new campaign direction. First Huckabee implies that there really is no war on women, now Rand Paul falling in line with the talking points. They obviously want to make a point that it is Democrats who are holding women back from their True Potential because of you know who….Uncle Sugar.

  2. Hopefully operation rescue is right and it is a wake up call, for people to make sure they have their wishes put down in writing (or video as I believe Nick suggested in the other post) and to everyone who thinks there is no war on women and their rights.

  3. Well said Mike….

    One thing I understand about the husband and wife…. If I recall they are paramedics…. Or one was…. One still is…… The judge came to the right conclusion…. But tarrant county judges have been under scrutiny since the teenager drunk….

  4. The fertility of the poor and that of the affluent is inversely related. The abortion battle is less about women’s rights, more about preserving the divide between the rich and poor. The rich, who got it, continuously see to it that the poor, who don’t got it, don’t get it. Every mechanism of exploitation is employed to maintain this imbalance, including the abortion battle itself, consisting of unwitting enlistees who can’t or won’t see the larger picture, amusing the rich over how easily sheep are led to slaughter.

    The divide over euthanasia is yet another smokescreen. The rich hardly pull the plug on themselves at the same rate that they want to pull it on you, as we’ve seen in the case of Israel’s Ariel Cherone. It’s double irony that there was no public outrage for his eight years of life support, even though it was the public footing his medical bills.

  5. justagurl, thanks for the link to the bioethics forum. Very interesting comments.

  6. Operation Rescues platform: We believe it to be just and right to compell any and all pregnant women to carry to term and give birth, even after death. The unborn is sacred. The already born and newly dead, not so much.

  7. SIMPLY PUT the hospital probably assumed that they could use this lady and her unborn baby as guinea pigs.. just imagine the money and prestige it would have gotten if the baby had managed to be born normal even though the mother was brain dead?

    what disgust me is the anti abortion zealots take no notice of the millions of unwanted children in the foster care system with hundreds possibly thousands more added everyday added for funding purposes. They take no notice of the children in the double digits severly maimed or killed everyday by parents who was ready for sex but not ready for parenthood..

    On top of this the anti abortion people are trolls for the corporation. they have a depopulation plan in place which they implement everyday do you really think they care about whether a woman is aborting a child or not? and DO NOT give me the crap about religious reasons because if it was sin then those same religions would not be killing in the name of their religion all day everyday…. We will never know the full truth about religion because the vatican would rather destroy the real documents then allow us to know the truth.. which is why hte bible has been written and written so many times and there are so many different religions out here it makes your head spin faster then linda blairs in the exorcist….

  8. When this happens again…. and it will, UNFORTUNATELY….
    PLEASE let it be one of the family members of Operation Rescue….
    Let them see how their religious fanaticism can affect a grieving family
    in the FIRST person….. Maybe they could learn something…..

  9. “I have had to endure the pain of watching my wife’s dead body be treated as if she were still alive. As a married man, I became very familiar with the way Marlise’s body felt, the way her hair smelled, and the way her eyes appeared when we looked at each other among other things. Over these past two months, nothing about my wife indicates she is alive. When I bend down to kiss her forehead, her usual scent is gone, replaced instead with what I can only describe as the smell of death.”

  10. It is sad that the Anti Choice zealots have made this case about a fetus, rather than any compassion for the family….

    It is now obvious with these religious fanatics, dead women are NOT safe
    from these people imposing their will on others.

    It is disgusting and sad to say the least.

  11. Mike,
    A very sad case that was made more tragic by the actions of the hospital. I would agree that this Texas law is a nullification law. It is sad that e family had to suffer over politics.

  12. Justice Holmes: One and the same.

    Darren: There will be no appeal. The court order provided the hospital its political cover. It can tell the religious right that it did its best. Besides, an appeal would be fruitless and expensive, and there’s already a huge bill for this medical absurdity, which presumably will have to be paid by the taxpayers of Tarrant County.

  13. I certainly hope no injunction or appeal of the judge’s decision prolongs this issue for the family etc. If someone wants to take it up otherwise that is better.

    There seems to never be a shortage of political types who inject themselves into individual’s lives as pawns to exploit them for their own agendas.

  14. Is this the same “Operation Rescue” that has encouraged and maybe perpetrated murders and bombings? These Pro “Life” people only seem interested in the unborn. Once you are alive they couldn’t be less interested and if you are a woman well they don’t even believe you exist except as a womb.

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