Not long ago, the case of a pregnant Texas woman made headlines after her doctors refused to withdraw her from life support even though her husband had specifically stated that was her wish.
In late November, Dallas, Ft. Worth area paramedic Eric Munoz discovered his pregnant wife, Marlise, unconscious on the floor of their home. After she was taken to a local hospital, doctors declared that Marlise Munoz had suffered a pulmonary embolism. The embolism had denied her brain of oxygen, and had effectively left her brain-dead. However, they were able to place her on life support and keep her body functioning. Her doctors were unable to determine if the embolism had caused any damage to the fetus.
When he learned of her diagnosis, Eric Munoz stated that his pregnant wife would not have wanted to remain on life support. Both Eric and Marlise were experienced paramedics and had discussed the question of artificial life support in the past. Eric says that his wife would have refused to remain on life support if she were ever in a brain-dead state.
Yet even though Eric communicated his wishes to have his wife removed from the life-sustaining machines, her doctors refuse to comply with those directions because, under Texas law, advance medical directives made by a pregnant woman are not applicable.
Pregnant Women and Advance Directives
An advance health care directive, also known as an advance medical directive or more simply as a medical directive, is a legal document in which people state their medical choices. If, like Marlise Munoz, you should one day become incapacitated, your advance directives will be able to speak for you. They will also allow use name someone as your medical representative who can make decisions on your behalf and communicate them to your physicians.
All states, including California, allow people to create advance health care directives or similar documents. However, like Texas and a large number of states, California law prevents doctors from withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant woman. Even if a pregnant woman’s directive states that she does not wish to receive such treatment, or her medical representative make that decision, doctors are prevented from withdrawing such care.
Medical Wishes and Pregnancy
Had Marlise Munoz suffered the same medical condition in a state that did not place restrictions on advance directives during pregnancy, it’s likely that her doctors would have complied with her husband’s directions. However, most people are unaware of what restrictions apply to advance directives. This is why it’s so important that you always consult an attorney when you make these documents. It’s doubly important that you consult an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney if you have recently moved into the state of California from another state.
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