After a bitter legal battle that became a touchstone in the abortion debate, a pregnant, brain-dead woman was removed from life support Sunday as a Texas hospital agreed to comply with a court order.
Marlise Munoz's body was to be turned over to her family, said attorneys for her husband, Erick Munoz. She had been on life support for about two months at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth after falling unconscious in her home Nov. 26 with a possible blood clot in her lung. At the time, she was 14 weeks pregnant.
Erick Munoz said doctors told him she was brain-dead. But the hospital refused to remove her from life support, citing a Texas law that says "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment … from a pregnant patient."
Both Erick and Marlise Munoz, 33, were paramedics. Erick Munoz said his wife had not wanted to be kept alive under such circumstances. He sued the hospital for "cruel and obscene mutilation" of a dead body.
Before Friday's court hearing, competing demonstrators gathered outside the hospital. One group demanded that her body remain on a ventilator so the fetus could be kept alive. The others demanded that the hospital "let Marlise rest in peace."
Texas District Judge R.H. Wallace Jr. ruled that the state's pregnancy protection law did not apply to someone who was not legally alive. He ordered the hospital to take her off life support by 5 p.m. Monday.
The hospital considered whether to appeal, but announced Sunday it would comply.
"The Munoz and Machado families will now proceed with the somber task of laying Marlise Munoz's body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered," Heather King and Jessica Janicek, attorneys for Erick Munoz, said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey."
Hospital officials acknowledged the "difficult" and "sad situation" in a statement, but said they had followed what they believed to be the law.
In an affidavit filed in court last week, Erick Munoz said it was clear his wife was no longer alive.
"When I bend down to kiss her forehead, her usual scent is gone, replaced instead with what I can only describe as the smell of death," he wrote in court papers.
"One of the most painful parts of watching my wife's deceased body lie trapped in a hospital bed each day is the soulless look in her eyes," he added. "Her eyes, once full of the 'glimmer of life,' are empty and dead. My wife is nothing more than an empty shell. She died in November 2013, and what sits in front of me is a deteriorating body."