A Prolonged Death Provides Lessons for the Living

Everyone agreed on one thing:  Marlise Munoz was dead.  The 33-year-old Texas wife, mother and paramedic got up in the night on Nov. 26, 2013, to tend to her toddler son and suffered a pulmonary embolism.  Her husband Erick, also a paramedic, was able to briefly get her breathing again and she was transported to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where she was placed on life support.

But everyone knew and two days later medical tests confirmed it: no brain activity.  In every sense of the word, Marlise was dead.

Unfortunately, Marlise was also 14 weeks pregnant and what was a tragedy was turned into a travesty that was only cut short by a Texas court late last week.  JPS Hospital refused to remove Marlise from life support because of The Texas Advance Directives Act, which states that, “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment…from a pregnant patient.”

Erick and Marlise’s parents had asked JPS Hospital to remove her from life support after her death was confirmed, stating that she had expressed to them many times that she did not want to be artificially kept alive.  As a paramedic, she knew what that could have meant for her loved ones.

However, Marlise had not executed an advance medical directive or a living will clearly stating her wishes.  This is why all of our advanced health care directives specifically address pregnancy (and we never use a form due to ambiguities in many of the form documents), for every plan we draft for a woman who can bear children.

But Marlise didn’t have that handled and her family had no choice: they had to go to court.  They also had to endure the worldwide media frenzy surrounding their personal tragedy, and were buffeted by activists on all sides of the issue.

On January 24, a Texas District Court Judge ordered the hospital to declare Marlise dead and release her body to the family.  Her attorneys argued successfully that she was no longer a “patient” since she met every benchmark for death.  She was removed from life support on January 26 and will be buried in a private family ceremony.

This sad case is an extreme example of what can happen when legal protections are not put in place prior to a tragedy that can happen to anyone.

As a Personal Family Lawyer®, I can further advise you on all your options and make things as easy as possible for your family during a Family Wealth Planning Session.  If you would like to have a talk about estate planning for your family, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

To your family’s health, wealth and happiness!

David Feakes

P.S.  Want to get started on the most important planning you’ll ever do for your family?  Give our office a call at (978) 263-6900 to get started.  You’ll be so glad you did.

David Feakes is the owner of The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, PC – a law firm for families in the Acton, Massachusetts area. David helps parents protect the people they love the most.  If you would like to receive David’s exclusive, free report, “Six Major Mistakes To Avoid When Choosing An Estate Planning Attorney,”  you can get it right here.

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At The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, we answer your questions at your convenience; we stay in frequent communication; and we meet to discuss changes in life circumstances and in the law to ensure that your assets are protected.

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