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Why the Dad Has No Say in Tragic Texas Brain Death Case

A terrible dilemma over the fate of a pregnant young mother throws a harsh light on the cost of the abortion debate.

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The heartbreaking saga of pregnant, braindead Marlise Munoz has sparked an outcry and opinions from people of all beliefs and political persuasions. But the one voice that should count in what happens to the fetus she was carrying apparently has no sway. That voice belongs to the kid’s dad.

Munoz, 33, was found brain dead on her Fort Worth Texas, kitchen floor from what doctors think is a blood clot on her lungs. Unbeknownst to her family, she was 14 weeks pregnant. (Pregnant women are at greater risk of developing blood clots, although it’s unclear the two events  were related.)

After the hospital discovered she was pregnant, doctors said they were not permitted by Texas law to turn off her life support, even though Ms. Munoz had previously indicated she did not want to be kept alive under such circumstances. About half of U.S. states do not allow life support to be withdrawn from a pregnant woman.

Viewpoint:  Why Brain Death Isn’t An On-Off Switch

The hospital’s actions are also in opposition to her husband, Erick Munoz and both of the woman’s parents.  “All she is, is a host for a fetus,” her father, Ernest Machado, 60, a retired cop, told the New York Times. “I get angry with the state…Why are they practicing medicine up in Austin?”

Aft first Ms. Munoz’s situation seems like a thorny moral question. Now that the mother has lost her ability to make her choices about the future of the fetus known, who has the most claim to make decisions about its fate? Should nature just take its course? Is it the state’s responsibility to step in?

The obvious answer is that the decision should be in the hands of the person who would be that child’s father. He will be the only extant biological parent  should the baby make it to full term. This is particularly poignant in this case: it’s not clear whether the time that Ms. Munoz spent without oxygen to her brain, or if not moving for most of the pregnancy will damage the fetus.  And if the baby is born and is impaired in some way—doctors say they will know more at 24 weeks gestation— it will be Mr. Munoz who will be primarily responsible for her or his care, in addition to raising the toddler that the couple already had, all as a single dad and a widower. Yet he has no say here.

Men have been protesting their disenfranchisement in decisions around their offspring for some time. In 2005, sociologist Dalton Conley—no foe of abortion— attracted a lot of criticism for an opinion piece about why he’d like a right to choose too. “When men and women engage in sexual relations both parties recognize the potential for creating life,” he wrote. “If both parties willingly participate then shouldn’t both have a say in whether to keep a baby that results?”

In 2006, Mel Feit of the National Center For Men undertook a crusade he called a Roe v Wade for Men.  He contended that men who didn’t want to have a child and made reasonable efforts to avoid it should at minimum be able to opt for a “financial abortion” that would liberate them from any responsibility for the baby. In this case, the father is facing significant health costs in parenting a potentially disabled child and a grieving toddler.

This is ultimately one of the unintended consequences of the abortion battle. Because the two sides of that debate are so sharply divided,  grey areas become no-go zones. For the pro-choice movement, it’s entirely a woman’s right to choose, because the fetus is a part of her body and cannot live without her. For the pro-life movement, the fetus has its own personhood and has as many rights as any individual from the moment of conception and is therefore offered the same protection the state offers any other of its citizens. In either case, the father is merely a catalyst, the maganese dioxide of this chemical reaction, something that has to be there for the event to take place, but serves no other purpose.

Doctors Urge More Hospitals to Perform Abortions

Most people do not live at the outer poles of the abortion debate. They’re somewhere in the middle, where the logic isn’t always completely rigid. While very few would argue that a man should be able to force a woman to have a baby she does not want, at the same time most people would also expect a man to provide for a biological child even if he did not want it. We need these seemingly contradictory truths to coexist.

That pretty much means that dads have a lot of responsibility but very few rights. And in situations like the one in Texas, a father doesn’t get a say in the fate of the fetus currently gestating in the womb of his dead wife. On the face of it, that’s simply wrong.

36 comments
ScallywagNYC
ScallywagNYC

The debate as to whether to turn off the switch off or not although dealing with the right to life of an unborn child inherently has more to do with the state’s ability to intervene in matters that many argue ought to be personal and beyond the reach of the state. Unless of course it conveniently serves one's idealogical position ......


The state always knows better than you what's better for you. Or does it ?


http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2014/01/marlise-munoz-deceased-texas-mother-forced-say-life-support-likely-stillborn/

sixtymile
sixtymile

As a lawful abstraction, it's not 'fair' either that women take on all of the physical demands, perils and consequences of pregnancy. This imbalance is neither right nor wrong, it is simply the nature of things.

RB1
RB1

From what has been reported before, the husband and wife discussed a living will, but never had anything drafted on paper or notarized!  Even still the state of Texas would override that legal document made by its citizens. 

How ironic that the state of Texas and its leaders all scream and stamp their feet about not wanting any government intervention into the rights of the citizens! Then they turn around and insist on laws that cut the civil rights of its citizens (especially women)! 

Additionally they scream about the decadence of the moral fiber of America and how we all need to follow the laws of God. So what do they do, they decide to replace God by taking on the role of God by determining who can die and when. Now they have moved onto a larger role of "God-Like-Beings" by insisting on creating life through death! How interesting that they now want to replace God by creating life through a dead body! What absolute arrogance by mortal men!  An excellent example of "False Prophets!"

TallusRip
TallusRip

This isn't about the fetus.  This is a direct tyranny by the state over the lives of citizens.  This woman had an advanced directive and her entire family is supporting her despite the pregnancy.  The state has no right to intervene.  Let nature take its course.

IraPastor
IraPastor

Actually, there are a few cases in the literature over the last several decades of supposed brain death reversal – mainly in infants and fetuses (where you may still have an active neurogenesis niche) – none ever had positive long term outcome, but the papers do exists in PubMed if you look for them – and they are hotly contested amongst thought leaders – like this one – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19818943 – And do keep in mind, the brain death diagnosis does NOT constitute zero cerebral activity as is commonly mentioned in the press – it is “no cerebral activity greater than 2 micro-volts” – most thought leaders in the space acknowledge residual “nests” of neuronal activity and residual blood flow do indeed exist in the brain dead – just not enough to support an “integrated whole person” – Since 1968 and the Harvard Ad Hoc Committee on Brain Death, the definition of death has remained static, in spite of 1) the major thought leaders in the space acknowledging that brain death is a process, not an event, and 2) the continued development of new technologies, including those of regenerative medicine – and on top of that, even in the year 2014 we really have no widely accepted idea on how memories are truly stored in the brain, and how much of the brain can be destroyed while maintaining identity – Ira S Pastor, CEO, Bioquark Inc. – http://www.bioquark.com – pastor@bioquark.com

jbabarsky
jbabarsky

I'm not sure that the issue here has anything to do with abortion rights for men OR women. To me, the issue is that the state is essentially maintaining the physiological functions of a DEAD woman because there was a pregnancy involved. She's not in a coma or persistent vegetative state. She is DEAD. Keeping her organs functioning is no different than raising a baby in an artificial womb. Unethical from all vantage points in my opinion. 

Bullsgt
Bullsgt

The issues here stem from politicians (and special interest groups) who value their personal opinions over the opinions of the individuals who have to deal with the day to day reality.


Mr. Munoz can’t expect to enjoy the company of his wife again yet is prevented from mourning her and moving past this terrible time in his life. The politicians have done this to him and his family.

These are the same people who want a smaller government.
Mr. Munoz has been sentenced to an uncertain future both financially and emotionally even though the wishes of Mr. Munoz, his wife and family are clear. If the fetus survives to birth what future is in store? What emotional, and physical hardships could this person experience for a lifetime? And at what cost?
These are the same people who want to reduce entitlements for people just like this.
The narcissistic ego’s of these people are unbelievable.
My heart goes out to Mr. Munoz and his family.

Bullsgt
Bullsgt

 The issues here stem from politicians (and special interest groups) who value their personal opinions over the opinions of the individuals who have to deal with the day to day reality.


Mr. Munoz can’t expect to enjoy the company of his wife again yet is prevented from mourning her and moving past this terrible time in his life. The politicians have done this to him and his family.

These are the same people who want a smaller government
Mr. Munoz has been sentenced to an uncertain future both financially and emotionally even though the wishes of Mr. Munoz, his wife and family are clear. If the fetus survives to birth what future is in store? What emotional, and physical hardships could this person experience for a lifetime? And at what cost?
These are the same people who want to reduce entitlements for people just like this.
The narcissistic ego’s of these people are unbelievable.
My heart goes out to Mr. Munoz and his family.


darrren12000
darrren12000

This article is pretty bad. To the extent that men have been left out of the abortion debate it has been due to men wanting to control a woman's decision -- either by spousal consent or notification. This is a completely different case. This is about the right to withhold medical treatment. In EVERY state in the country, husbands speak for the incompetent wives on this issue. The lawyer for the hospital is a nutty rightwing pro-lifer. This has nothing to do with men and abortion. It has everything to do with disgusting rightwing politics. 

skyarizonadreamer
skyarizonadreamer

Speculation is premature at this point in time, and the Texas law is what it is. There isn't any changing of the situation, now... If the fetus is born with severe disabilities, perhaps the father can give the child to the state of Texas to support. Sure, the father may suffer even more and his other child will be raised by relatives while father is in jail, but it is an option.

BeverlyNuckols
BeverlyNuckols

I believe that there are mistakes in this article, even if we forget the swerve from the end of life topic to the abortion question. From everything I've read, the husband knew his wife was pregnant and the wife has not been found to be brain dead by formal testing. There is no death certificate.

immargarita
immargarita

Absurdities out of TexASS.  If the next of kin have NO rights in one of their loved one's decisions and a legal, binding, physical document the woman herself signed is not going to be respected, what is the point????  I saw my mother be kept artificially for 15 months because of my stupid father and brother.  And it was awful!  She was brain dead, being kept alive by nothing other than machines.  I would not want a fate like that for myself.  Not an issue of prochoice or prolife, the decision was made by this poor mother who is now nothing but a host to this fetus that may be born with developmental issues.  And the way I see it, if she wished this for herself, she may have wished the same for her potentially brain-damaged baby instead of living a half-life, debilitated & dependent on others or on machines.   It is just utter disrespect from the state of Texas towards an already grieving and pained family.  

RobinSlaterSchroeder
RobinSlaterSchroeder

I love how everyone has such drastic opinions of what they think is right or wrong in this situation.  But the fact of the matter is, not one single one of you have been in his shoes or even know someone who has!  Try grieving the loss of your spouse, finding out she was pregnant with your child, knowing her end of life care wishes, having to handle raising your toddler alone all of a sudden, and now being thrown in the world media spot light over such a crazy/personal/religious/political/legal situation it can make your head spin!  Pregnant or not pregnant, legally, we all know what her wishes were for her end of life decisions.  As to if she knew she was pregnant and no one else did...we will never know that...only she did.  We cannot make assumptions...we can't empathize.  I don't say these things lightly...I am currently 8 months pregnant, and would never dream of ending the life of my child.  BUT, medicine and society has to realize here...the mother is just a "host" here...not a mother!  She can't talk to her baby, move, caress her belly, feel the baby move...it cannot hear her (nor will it ever) or feel her movements.  That has to have some affect on the fetus/baby.  Also, we have no idea the damage that may have been done, medically/physically/emotionally...when the child is born (if it survives that long), or down the road in the future.  I'm not saying I'm right, I'm wrong, or that anyone else is totally right or wrong.  But, I feel people are just taking their stances of ProChoice and ProLife and running high and fast with them here...when really, it's not even about that!  Again, you stand in this gentleman's shoes and tell me what you would do...just try...I know you will try...BUT YOU CAN'T BECAUSE IT'S AN UNFATHOMABLE SITUATION!!!!!!!  May God rest his hand upon that woman, her child in her womb, her toddler she left behind, her husband and the decisions and life he has ahead of him, and the rest of her family...may they all find some gentle peace and reassurance somewhere in all this madness!

dartvejder
dartvejder

I am a single father of a wonderful little girl.  But I think abortion is probably the most reasonable choice in this case.  First, it is so hard to raise a child from the very first day when you are single, yet a male.  You need a lot of brain and wisdom, and tons of patience to do it right. Second, it's heartbreaking to raise a child that doesn't have a clue what does "mom" word means.  I had many sad moments when my daughter hears other kids calling their moms, and then she repeats "mom" so light-hearted.  
At last, not everyone can be a good parent, the most important thing is does this guy have a strong will and good skills to be an awesome dad in such a challenging and hard times that will come

RebeccaDaniels
RebeccaDaniels

I agree with Sharon. Also, the father should get the choice, but in my eyes, the father made the choice/took the risk when the child was conceived. The mother would want the child to live, surely?

Above, it talks about contradictory truths. But these aren't contradictory. You don't force a father to conceive a child the same way you wouldn't force a mother too. But once life is created, the two people are fully and equally responsible for that baby. It is unfortunate, but I think the father should step up to the challenge and be someone his wife would be proud of.

ShannonDavisLawson
ShannonDavisLawson

Okay, I know I'm going to get rapped in the mouth by the pro-Choice folk, but I have to say something here.  If this was my sister or my daughter and inside her, for all intents and purposes "dead" body, there was germinating the living tissue of my flesh and blood, there would be no power under God that would allow that hospital to unplug her.  I would do whatever was necessary, including hiring an attorney, going personally before the supreme court, to make certain that little person had a shot.  The father doesn't want his baby?  Cost?  Seriously?  Has he no soul?  That is HIS baby and while his wife is clearly not going to recover, that little creature inside her is the fruit of their love for each other and how can the one outside the womb possibly be of any greater importance than the one yet to breath air?  So what if she has to lay there for a few months on life support until the living baby can be retrieved from her body?  What difference is that going to make in the long run?  What kind of woman was this?  Would she have wanted her unborn child to die?  I don't know about anyone else but the financial end of this has absolutely zero bearing.  That baby would live if that was my family member laying there in that bed, and that's all there is to it, even if I had to raise it and take care of it, handicapped or not.  


There are literally too numerous to count women in the world who cannot have children, some who can get pregnant only to have their joy and zeal ripped away from them when they discover their weak uterus will not support life for a full 9-month term.  Where are those women?  Speak up!  


I am sorry for his loss and I am sorry their toddler will now grow up without its mother, but there is still life in that body.  If it is God's will, that baby's light will extinguish on its own, and not because someone unplugs its mother. 

spookiewriter
spookiewriter

@IraPastorSorry, my first attempt was a giant fail. Here is the actual reply-


Regen medicine is nowhere close to helping anyone who's brains are gone. 

Oh, and the 2 micro-volts you mention? A warm rock can induce that much voltage. What is the amperage at that voltage by the way? Voltage has a dancing partner called current (amperage). I'm not sure how much current needs to be produced in an active, living brain, but I bet it's relatively high. Voltage peters out pretty quickly in a conductor so the brain probably needs a fair amount of amperage to get signals around efficiently.

To put this another way, most computers use 12V DC (as well as 5 and 3 volts but that is usually broken out from a 12V rail) at 5-10 amps (depending on how the computer is used and its components). Try running a computer at 12V but only 3amps (to those that know, yes, power circuitry can boost that but this is just an example). Sure, it may work, but the machine is not going to be happy and will not function well.

spookiewriter
spookiewriter

@IraPastorRegen medicine is nowhere close to helping anyone who's brains are gone. 

Oh, and the 2 micro-volts you mention? A warm rock can induce that amperage.

FreeSpeech97
FreeSpeech97

Your comment is irrelevant because it does not take into account the real issue here. The mother has died, BUT there is a living child still alive inside her who's life does matter. If the baby had been old enough to be taken out of her would you be arguing to kill him/ her because of possible effects of lack of oxygen? Again, one life has been lost but another can be saved and this citizen deserves the same rights as all of us. This does not have to do with smaller government. This has to do with right and wrong. Your own personal convenience ends where another human dies.

christinedantz
christinedantz

@RobinSlaterSchroeder Thank you for your comments. I agree, there are too many issues here to go into and the fact is this poor family is going through hell and will continue to do that for years to come . . .my heart goes out to them. No matter how this ends, everyone not involved is making it much harder. 

crina.g
crina.g

@RebeccaDaniels How can you tell what the mother would want? Obviously she had no clue she was pregnant since no one in the family knew. 

RB1
RB1

@ShannonDavisLawson Thats the point here!  IT'S NOT GOD'S WILL, ITS MAN'S WILL!! You talk about the importance of preserving this life as though God wills it. Wake Up lady!  If mortal men want to act as gods then let them and all that follow them be prone to the will of the true God! No mortal being has the right to replace God. 

From your discussion, it sounds as though you may have experienced personal problems with conceiving or giving birth and thus have a special desire to protect all lives, yet can't seem to accept the destiny assigned by your God. It is unfair that by the laws of God that this baby would die, but one could say that about virtually all deaths. Does that mean that mortal men have to preserve all those lives by playing god? Have you ever thought that maybe this fetus has a special seat with God waiting and now corrupt men have robbed this fetus of that privilege! 

Klar1zze
Klar1zze

@ShannonDavisLawson When someone asks how a woman can have an abortion when there are so many woman in the world that want to be mothers and are not able to, I always, and specially in this case I think… it's not this poor brain-dead woman's fault or her families' for that matter other people can't have kids. 


No one obviously knows how they would react to a situation like this until the time comes, however, having a sister, if she were ever in the situation, I would not like to see her kept alive artificially for the sole purpose of being a human incubator, specially when everybody in our immediate family circle have explicitly expressed we do not want to be kept artificially alive if something should happen. We know first hand what that means.


I think he's making a tough and brave decision to try and remove life support. One that will likely pop the what if question for the rest of his life if he succeeds. Cost? No soul? Do you have any idea what medical costs in the US are? Do you have any idea what to cost to maintain life support is? Best case scenario: widower, grieving, with two kids and on top of that broke. That is, if the fetus can come to term and has no health implications…. 

crina.g
crina.g

@ShannonDavisLawson It's not God that is keeping that woman alive, it's all just machines made by humans! If it was for a natural course of things, that woman and the baby were already dead! Keep that in mind. So why shouldn't  be the father  the one to decide, why you should it be you or me? And even though you think you know what you would do in a situation like this, fortunate enough you are not  in that man's shoes, are you? 

KristyM
KristyM

@ShannonDavisLawsonShannon, I am one of those women who cannot have children.  I am pro choice.  I think that making the decision to be a parent or not is the most important decision a woman can make, and I don't think that anyone has the right to take it away.  I stand with this father, who has suddenly become a widower, and single working parent of a grieving toddler.  I can understand that he doesn't think he can handle a probably severely disabled infant and take care of his son and himself.  Especially in a state that is known for not helping those that need help most.

IraPastor
IraPastor

Thanks for the electronics review


But I wasn't making a point about "power" for the system


I was just pointing out that as acknowledged by the main thought leaders in the space (Bernat, Wijdicks, Machado, etc.) "nests of live cells" do indeed still exist in the dead

Bullsgt
Bullsgt

@FreeSpeech97  I'm not going to discuss when a fetus becomes a person let alone a citizen with you.

However,

A New England Journal of Medicine study of premature infants (4192) at week 25 (not 14 weeks) of gestation (94%) for whom outcomes were determined, 49% died, an additional 12% had profound impairment, and another 12% had impairment. 


No one knows what type of "life" this fetus will have if it goes to maturity. The father and family don't want to chance it. But you would make them. If the government succeeds I truly hope the fetus is born healthy anything else would be too terrible to contemplate.

BMJohnston
BMJohnston

@KristyM@ShannonDavisLawson Wow, this whole story is so disturbing... no one even knows if the child is disabled, it may be a perfect healthy baby. It is shocking how little value is placed in human life and how easily it is discarded.

christinedantz
christinedantz

@IraPastor But do any of those "miracles" include a fetus that went without oxygen to the brain for as long as an hour? 

crina.g
crina.g

@AsterNova @crina.g @RebeccaDaniels " Munoz, 33, was found brain dead on her Fort Worth Texas, kitchen floor from what doctors think is a blood clot on her lungs. Unbeknownst to her family, she was 14 weeks pregnant. (Pregnant women are at greater risk of developing blood clots, although it’s unclear the two events  were related.)"


Read more: Why the Dad Has No Say in Tragic Texas Brain Death Case | TIME.com http://healthland.time.com/2014/01/10/why-the-dad-has-no-say-in-dismal-texas-brain-death-case/#ixzz2qEhgtWCp

AsterNova
AsterNova

@BMJohnston@KristyMWhat about quality of life for the unborn child? Do you have any idea what a little oxygen deprivation does to a fetus at that gestational age? The child is more than likely brain dead. Not to mention all the medical procedures done that are dangerous to the fetus, such as zapping the heart back. The argument from the sanity of life is invalid. I have also not seen anyone even consider the other child in this situation. You have to look at this from every angle in order to make an ethical decision.

BMJohnston
BMJohnston

@KristyM@BMJohnstonDo you think that when she made a living will she considered this situation? I am not trying to minimize the difficulty of these decisions, but nobody really knows what she would have wanted in this situation. Sadly, she died, but her child did not; the state is right to protect its life, even if it is difficult for her family.

KristyM
KristyM

@BMJohnstonDo you think these decisions are made easily?  They are not.  Much thought goes into them.  The reason this woman had a living will that said no life support should be used on her is because he brother died a slow death the year before.  Decisions like this are not made easily, and you should not assume they are just because it is not a decision you would make.