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Brain-dead Texas woman taken off ventilator

From Caleb Hellerman. Jason Morris and Matt Smith, CNN
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 1226 GMT (2026 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace," family lawyers say
  • Munoz has been brain dead since November
  • A hospital had kept her body on a ventilator to preserve the fetus she carried
  • A judge ordered that to stop by Monday, and the hospital says it will comply

Fort Worth, Texas (CNN) -- A wrenching court fight -- about who is alive, who is dead and how the presence of a fetus changes the equation -- came to an end Sunday when a brain-dead, pregnant Texas woman was taken off a ventilator.

The devices that had kept Marlise Munoz's heart and lungs working for two months were switched off about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, her family's attorneys announced.

"May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey," the lawyers, Heather King and Jessica Janicek, said in a written statement.

Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant with the couple's second child when her husband found her unconscious on their kitchen floor November 26. Though doctors had pronounced her brain dead and her family had said she did not want to have machines keep her body alive, officials at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth had said state law required them to maintain life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient.

Attorney on judge's order: We are relieved

Attorneys: Fetus was 'distinctly abnormal'

Sunday's announcement came two days after a judge in Fort Worth ordered the hospital to remove any artificial means of life support from Munoz by 5 p.m. Monday. Earlier Sunday, the hospital said it intended to comply with that order.

"The past eight weeks have been difficult for the Munoz family, the caregivers and the entire Tarrant County community, which found itself involved in a sad situation," a hospital statement said. "JPS Health Network has followed what we believed were the demands of a state statute."

The hospital acknowledged Friday that Munoz, 33, had been brain dead since November 28 and that the fetus she carried was not viable. Her husband, Erick Munoz, had argued that sustaining her body artificially amounted to "the cruel and obscene mutilation of a deceased body" against her wishes and those of her family.

Marlise Munoz didn't leave any written directives regarding end-of-life care, but her husband and other family members said she had told them she didn't want machines to keep her blood pumping.

The ethics of life support

In an affidavit filed Thursday in court, Erick Munoz said little to him was recognizable about his wife. Her bones crack when her stiff limbs move. Her usual scent has been replaced by the "smell of death." And her once lively eyes have become "soulless."

The hospital's position drew support from demonstrators outside the hospital, some of whom held signs last week that read "God stands for life" and "Praying for Baby Munoz and family." But others countered with placards bearing messages like "Let Marlise rest in peace" and "Respect Marlise's wishes."

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