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Life-Support Battle Over Pregnant Texas Woman Heads To Court

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Life-Support Battle Over Pregnant Texas Woman Heads To Court

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Life-Support Battle Over Pregnant Texas Woman Heads To Court

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The dramatic story of Marlise Munoz moves to a North Texas courtroom Friday afternoon. Munoz has been on life support since she was found unconscious in her home in November. At the time, she was 14 weeks pregnant. Her family says it has medical evidence she's brain-dead and wants to take her off life-support, but the hospital has refused to disconnect her from the machines. Lauren Silverman of member station KERA reports her husband's lawsuit to get the hospital's policy changed gets its first hearing in court today.

LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: Marlise Munoz has attracted national and international attention for more than a month.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: In Texas, a wrenching life and death struggle is going on involving a woman who is being kept on life-support because she is pregnant. Her family's saying...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN TWO: A paramedic married to another paramedic, the couple expecting their second child when it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN THREE: If that means that you are actually brain dead or if you're in a persistent vegetative state or...

SILVERMAN: When Marlise Munoz arrived at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth seven weeks ago, the media focused on her health - specifically, whether or not she was brain dead. As today's court hearing approaches, attention has turned to the health of her unborn baby. This week attorneys for her husband released a statement describing the fetus - now 22 weeks along -- as distinctly abnormal. With heart problems, deformed lower extremities and hydrocephalus, or fluid in the brain.

DR. SHEILA CHHUTANI: Knowing of these abnormalities this early in gestation, the likelihood of having a good outcome for the fetus is definitely decreased.

SILVERMAN: Dr. Sheila Chhutani is an OB/GYN at Texas Health Presbyterian, Dallas. She says cases of pregnant brain dead women are extremely rare. A 2010 study at Heidelberg University in Germany focused on a number of such women around the world. The results for the babies were mixed. Five died in utero, and 13 were delivered by C-section -- one died a month later.

CHHUTANI: In dealing with these types of cases, you know, one of the first things is finding out if there are any abnormalities within the fetus because that can help determine whether or not you take on the burden of keeping this woman alive in order to grow the fetus.

SILVERMAN: The family has made a decision. For weeks they've asked the hospital to remove Munoz from the machines, but the hospital says a state law makes that illegal.

TOM MAYO: The law that they say compels them to continue ICU level support for Ms. Munoz is the so-called pregnancy exclusion provision in our Advanced Directives Act.

SILVERMAN: Tom Mayo is a medical ethicist and law professor at in Southern Methodist University Dallas. He spoke with NPR yesterday.

MAYO: And I think the pregnancy exclusion provision doesn't apply because I don't think the act doesn't applies to someone who is dead. This is all assuming now that the husband has it right and that we'll see confirmation of her brain death as a result of the hearing.

SILVERMAN: Mayo says more than 30 other states also have pregnancy exclusion provisions on the books but this is the first time he's heard of a hospital insisting on treatment over the objection of the family. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Silverman in Dallas.

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