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Judge recuses herself from lawsuit to take pregnant woman off of life support

by | Jan 17, 2014

 

By Dave Andrusko

Erick and Marlise Munoz with their first child, Mateo

Erick and Marlise Munoz with their first child, Mateo

Without explanation, the Texas judge hearing a suit brought by the family of a pregnant woman said to be brain dead recused herself from the case.

The family of Marlise Machado Muñoz brought the lawsuit against JPS Health Network to compel the hospital to take Mrs. Munoz off of life support. John Peter Smith Hospital said it cannot, citing a provision of the Texas Advance Directives Act as that reads: “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.”

State District Judge Melody Wilkinson’s “order of recusal” was filed on Thursday. According to the Star-Telegram, in her letter to Jeff Walker, administrative judge for this region, Judge Wilkinson wrote, “The Munoz case has time sensitive issues which require immediate attention. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.”

Since Walker will be out of town until Monday, state District Judge R.H. Wallace is serving as presiding judge. “When Wallace’s office receives Wilkinson’s notice, the case will be reassigned,” reported Elizabeth Campbell.

The Tarrant County district attorney’s office is representing JPS in the suit. Through a spokeswoman it declined to comment on Judge Wilkinson’s recusal.

The Muñoz family also did not wish to comment. But their attorney Jessica Janicek emailed a statement, saying, “We have recently received Marlise Muñoz’s medical records, and can now confirm that Mrs. Munoz is clinically brain dead, and therefore deceased under Texas law.”

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How this came to pass was not explained. Previously, Mrs. Munoz’s husband, Erick Muñoz, only said that “a doctor told him his wife is considered brain-dead,” the Associated Press reported.

Mrs. Muñoz entered her 20th week of pregnancy January 6.

The family filed their lawsuit Tuesday in Tarrant County civil court Tuesday, requesting the court to issue an order requiring John Peter Smith Hospital “to immediately cease conducting any further medical procedures and to remove Marlise from any respirators, ventilators or other ‘life support,’” the Star-Telegram newspaper reported.

Mrs. Muñoz, 33, the mother of 15-month-old Mateo, was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed on her kitchen floor in November. Munoz tried to resuscitate his wife and called for an ambulance. Doctors restarted Mrs. Munoz’s heart in the emergency room.

Her mother, Mrs. Lynne Machado, told the New York Times’ Manny Fernandez and Erik Eckholm that “the doctors had told her that they would make a decision about what to do with the fetus as it reached 22 to 24 weeks, and that they had discussed whether her daughter could carry the baby to full term to allow for a cesarean-section delivery.”

Doctors are monitoring the baby’s condition. For reasons not explained in current or recent stories, Mr. Muñoz says he believes his wife was without oxygen for some time before he found her early the morning of November 26.

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Categories: Brain Death