Several weeks ago you may have heard of the story of Marlise Munoz, a Fort Worth area woman who was left brain-dead after suffering from a pulmonary embolism. Recently, a Texas judge heard arguments in the Munoz case and ordered the Texas hospital caring for her to remove her from the life-sustaining machines. The case has brought renewed attention to several important estate planning issues, and especially the question of incapacity planning, medical directives, and pregnant women.
Pregnant and Incapacitated in Texas
When Eric Munoz found his pregnant wife incapacitated on the floor of their Texas home, he took her to an area hospital. The embolism she suffered left her brain-dead, and knowing his wife’s wishes, Eric asked the hospital to take her off life sustaining machines. The hospital refused because Texas law specifically prohibits doctors from removing such care from a woman when she is pregnant.
Like other states, Texas law gives residents the right to create advance medical directives that state their choices about refusing medical care in situations like the one Marlies Munoz was in. Yet the Texas law prevents such care from being withdrawn from pregnant women.
Eric Munoz took the case to court, and a Texas judge decided that because Marlise Munoz was brain-dead, and because her fetus was not viable, she should be removed from the life-sustaining machines.
Medical Choices When Incapacitated, on Life Support
Though the Munoz case resulted in court action, advance medical directives are designed to prevent such court involvement from becoming necessary. When an incapacitated person is under a physician’s care, there is no way for that person to tell the doctor what he or she wants. However, an advance medical directive will allow incapacitated people to express their medical wishes. By creating a living will or health care power of attorney, every capable adult can ensure that their wishes are honored should they become incapacitated.
Of course, like every legal document, advance medical directives have to meet state requirements. Even though Colorado, like Texas, prohibits doctors from withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from an incapacitated pregnant woman, medical directives are important regardless of your age or gender. Directives not only allow you to inform your physicians of your wishes, but they also give you the opportunity to make sure your family is clear about what you want.
In some situations, such as the case of Terri Schiavo, not being clear about your medical choices can lead to lengthy and costly court battles if your family members cannot agree about what you would want. Advance medical directives allow you to avoid these types of disagreements.
What will happen to you in the case that you become incapacitated? Do you have your wishes written out clearly for your family? Call us with any questions you have at 719-520-1474 or at 303-726-6060. We will be happy to help.