By NOMAAN MERCHANT, Associated Press
DALLAS (AP) — The husband of a pregnant, brain-dead Texas woman who was taken off life support over the weekend named what would have been the couple's second child before his wife was removed from machines.
Erick Munoz said Monday that he named the 23-week-old fetus Nicole, which was his late wife's middle name. Munoz would not say why he chose to name the fetus.
Munoz said doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth indicated to him that the fetus would likely have been a girl, though his attorneys previously said the fetus suffered from lower body deformation that made it impossible to determine a gender.
"They think it was a female," Munoz said in a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Both the hospital, which initially refused to disconnect Marlise Munoz, and his attorneys agreed the fetus could not have been born alive that early in the pregnancy.
The fetus was not delivered when John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth complied Sunday with a judge's order to pull any life-sustaining treatment from Munoz. She was declared brain-dead in November, but the hospital had kept her on machines for the sake of the fetus.
The case had inspired debates about abortion and end-of-life decisions, as well as whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus, per Texas law. Anti-abortion activists attended Friday's court hearing and spoke out in favor of trying to deliver the fetus.
Munoz's attorneys, Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek, issued a statement last week describing the condition of the fetus based on medical records they received from the hospital.
"According to the medical records we have been provided, the fetus is distinctly abnormal," the attorneys said. "Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined."
The attorneys said the fetus also had fluid building up inside the skull and possibly had a heart problem.
Erick Munoz told the AP in an earlier interview that he believed in God but felt his training as a paramedic suggested the fetus would have been seriously harmed by his wife's condition.
Whether the case leads Texas to change the law remains unclear. In recent years, the Legislature has enacted several new anti-abortion restrictions, including setting the legal guideline for when a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks — a milestone Marlise Munoz's fetus passed about three weeks ago.
Erick Munoz sued the hospital because it would not remove life support. Marlise Munoz was also a paramedic familiar with end-of-life issues, and Erick Munoz said his wife had told him she would not want to be kept alive under such circumstances.
In refusing his request, the hospital cited Texas law that says life-sustaining treatment cannot be withdrawn from a pregnant patient, regardless of her end-of-life wishes.
Legal experts told the AP that the hospital was misreading the Texas Advance Directives Act and that the law isn't an absolute command to keep a pregnant woman on life support.
Judge R.H. Wallace Jr. sided Friday with Erick Munoz, saying in his order: "Mrs. Munoz is dead."
Erick Munoz found his wife unconscious in their Haltom City home on Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot. Doctors soon determined that she was brain-dead, which meant she was both medically and legally dead, but kept her on machines to keep her organs functioning for the sake of the fetus.
The case has been noted by Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the two leading candidates running to replace him, but none has called for any new laws or action yet.
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, through a spokesman, said the case was a "heartbreaking tragedy" and that "Texas strives to protect both families and human life, and we will continue to work toward that end."
Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat from Fort Worth, said through a spokeswoman that any decision like this "should be made by Mrs. Munoz's family, in consultation with her doctors."
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