Lawsuit Seeks to Stop Life Support for Brain-Dead Texas Woman

(CNN) - The husband of a pregnant, brain-dead Texas woman filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to force the hospital to take her off life support.

The family also wants the hospital to turn the body of Marlise Munoz over for a proper burial.

The lawsuit argues the 33-year-old woman is dead, so a Texas law cited by the hospital that makes it illegal to withhold life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant woman is moot.

What the hospital is doing "amounts to nothing more than the cruel and obscene mutilation of a deceased body against the expressed will of the deceased and her family," according to the lawsuit.

"In sum, Marlise Munoz's death is a horrible and tragic circumstance, but by no means should (the hospital) be entitled to continue cutting into her deceased body in front of her husband and family under the guise of 'life sustaining' treatment," according to the lawsuit.

Munoz's family says she has been brain-dead since her husband, Erick Munoz, found her unconscious at their home on November 26. At the time, she was 14 weeks' pregnant with the couple's second child.

The family says the fetus may have been deprived of oxygen.

Her family says Marlise Munoz had given clear -- if unwritten -- instructions that she did not want her life to be prolonged by a ventilator or other artificial means, but they say officials at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, have refused to disconnect her life support.

In December, a hospital spokeswoman said the facility was just following Texas law.

"And state law here says you cannot withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient. It's that clear," hospital spokeswoman J.R. Labbe said.

The hospital, which is operated by Tarrant County, directed questions Tuesday to the Tarrant County district's attorney's office. That office didn't immediately return a telephone message from CNN seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Last week, Labbe told CNN that the hospital believed "the courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction and resolution in this matter."

One legal expert consulted by CNN said last week he believes the hospital is misinterpreting the law, which he helped write.

"The two things I think are fundamentally wrong about the hospital's position here are: First of all, she's not a patient anymore," Southern Methodist University law professor Tom Mayo said. "And so I don't see how we can use a provision of the law that talks about treating or not treating a patient in a case where we really don't have a patient."


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