I heard about this yesterday, and it raises the question again: when is "dead"?
The legal definition is "brain death." By that definition, Marlise Munoz is dead. But this is the linchpin of the controversy:
The hospital maintains that it is following the law, although several experts in medical ethics said they believed the hospital was misinterpreting it. A crucial issue is whether the law applies to pregnant patients who are brain-dead as opposed to those in a coma or a vegetative state. The law, first passed by the Texas Legislature in 1989 and amended in 1999, states that a person may not withdraw or withhold “life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant patient.There is both the law and the issue: “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment … from a pregnant patient.” But life-sustaining treatment cannot be withheld from a corpse. So there's the rub: if the hospital declares Marlise Munoz dead, do they run afoul of Texas law? And if they don't?
Mr. and Mrs. Machado said the hospital had made it clear to them that their daughter was brain-dead, but hospital officials have declined to comment on Mrs. Munoz’s care and condition, creating uncertainty over whether the hospital has formally declared her brain-dead.
Well, it isn't quite that the law forces this conclusion. It's more that the hospital (JPS) doesn't want to be left holding the legal bag in this matter. But their non-committal statement is belied by the background of their outside counsel:
“JPS is encouraged by this development because the courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction and resolution in this matter,” J.R. Labbe, the hospital system’s vice president of communications and community affairs, said in a statement. “JPS remains focused on providing compassionate care to all patients while also following the law as it applies to healthcare in the state of Texas.”So yes, this goes a bit deeper than the "requirements" of the law. Does the law require this outcome? Or does a right-to-life advocate like Neal Adams insist to his client that it requires this outcome, for reasons that don't really have much bearing on a legal analysis of the applicable statute? And, of course, that's why JPS now is "uncertain" over whether or not they have declared Ms. Munoz dead.
The hospital’s outside counsel is Neal Adams, who led the drive to end abortions at JPS in 1988 and is on the advisory board of the Northeast Tarrant Right-to-Life Educational Association, based in Euless.
As long as the machines can keep her blood pumping and oxygenated, and her organs functioning, she can be what most right-to-lifers clearly think pregnant women are: flesh incubators.
So this is not just a horror story about modern medicine and our power over death, which is really no power at all. It's a horror story about how we treat the autonomy of the individual, and how we decide who is human, and who is "more" human, and what we do with, and to, people who have lost their power of agency. Texas law created this problem; but it took a true zealot to turn it into an object lesson in man's inhumanity to man.
If the law, a blunt instrument in the best of cases, is going to be used to prevent abortions and promote as many pregnancies to viability as is technologically possible, perhaps it is time for us to face the consequences of such uses of the law, and to reconsider the legal system and its relationship to pregnancy and abortion. Because this situation is absolutely morally indefensible.