Two Heartbreaking Deaths in Texas

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

What a painful story out of John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth — whose heart does not break for Marlise Munoz’s husband and parents, and her 15-month-old who will grow up without knowing her mother. The pregnant mother was preparing a bottle during the night when what is reported to be a blood clot to her lungs caused her to collapse and stopped her oxygen flow. It’s unclear if her unborn child, Nicole, who was at about 23 weeks when her mother was taken off life support on Sunday by court order, could have survived had her mother continued on life support.

Dr. Marie T. Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, who is a registered nurse, ethicist, and canon lawyer. “In every way this is a tragedy,” she tells me. The mother has been lost and now the child, too.

She tells me:

Perhaps, with the reported period of loss of oxygen by the mother, Marlise, the attempt to achieve viability of her baby (often deemed to be at a minimum of 24 weeks gestation) may be futile.  We do not have the medical facts.  And perhaps the burden to the unborn baby of the technology used to maintain the organs of the mother, who has been reported to be dead by neurological criteria, is greater than the benefit to the unborn baby.  However, we do not know if there was a hope of survival of the baby if viability had been reached.  And if viability had been reached there would not have been a moral obligation to employ extraordinary means of technological intervention, that is, those that would be of a disproportionate burden to benefit to the baby.  But, we do not have the clinical facts and may never know.  For the family, this must have been a very difficult path; and we pray for the entire family, including the grandparents, parents and their unborn baby and the baby’s sibling.

Texas attorney general Greg Abbott’s comment was right:

This is a heartbreaking tragedy for the entire Muñoz family, and our thoughts and prayers will remain with them during this difficult time. Texas strives to protect both families and human life, and we will continue to work toward that end.

As Wesley Smith has commented, “There is a second life here. And that matters.”

As one friend who works in this kind of public policy comments, this is a “very hard situation and it is very hard to draft laws that cover such things.” But our public policy needs to be compassionate and always err on the side of life.

Now is a time for prayer for two lives lost and the grieving family they leave behind.

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