Human Exceptionalism

Texas Law Right to Keep Pregnant Woman Alive

A Texas woman named Marlise Munoz collapsed and has apparently permanently lost consciousness. She had told her family that she wouldn’t want to be kept alive in such circumstances. Normally, if the family decided to withdraw life support, that would be that.

But Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant. Texas law prohibits removing pregnant women from life support. From the Politix story:

Marlise made her wishes clear to her family after her brother died in an accident. She told her husband and her mother, Lynne Machado, that she did not ever want to be kept alive on a life support machine. But Texas law overrides women’s wishes when they are pregnant: “Section 166.049 Pregnant Patients. A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient.”

I normally believe that decisions about wanting or not wanting life support should be followed–assuming clear and convincing proof. But no “right” is absolute. There is a second life here. And that matters.

Besides, from the story we don’t know what Marlise would “want” if she knew that removing life support would also cause her unborn baby to die. That could well have been a huge factor in her thinking about what she would have wanted under these terrible circumstances. 

In this case, the question involves a benefit of the doubt. I think Texas law made the right decision as a matter of policy by giving that benefit to saving the lives of unborn babies. After birth, the family should be free to decide.

What if the fetus–now 18 weeks along–was permanently injured?

My view: If he or she continues to develop toward viability, I think it would be discriminatory to make potential disability a factor in applying the law.  

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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