One of the most appalling examples of the contempt many politicians and religious-right activists have for the freedom of Texans to make even the most intimate decisions about their own health care was the case of Marlise Muñoz last year. Marlise was 14 weeks into a pregnancy when she suffered a pulmonary embolism. Although doctors declared her brain dead and she had previously made it clear to her family that she wanted to forego medical intervention in such a circumstance, the hospital argued that Texas law forced it to keep Marlise’s body hooked up to machines until the fetus was delivered or died.
As an NPR story pointed out, the hospital “maintained a corpse against the wishes of the family, for the protection of a fetus that couldn’t live.” Her family fought in court for two months for the right to respect Marlise’s expressed wishes. Her husband was even forced to sue the hospital for “cruel and obscene mutilation of a corpse.” Eventually, a state judge ordered the hospital to obey the wishes of Marlise and her family and unhook her body from its machines.
Right-wing politicians like state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, have sneeringly questioned the motives of Marlise’s devastated family. One has even filed legislation this year that would require the state to appoint an attorney to represent an unborn fetus in future tragic circumstances like that faced by the Muñoz family. The consequences of such legislation would only add to the trauma for families.
Now, however, state Rep. Elliot Naishtat, D-Austin, has filed legislation —HB 3183, or Marlise’s Law — that would repeal sections of Texas law that restrict the right of pregnant women to make their own decisions about end-of-life care, giving them and their families the same rights as every other Texan. Rep. Naishtat explained his legislation at a press conference today:
“This bill would allow women autonomy when planning their wishes regarding extraordinary medical interventions during end-of-life care. Marlise’s Law enables physicians, health care providers and medical institutions to honor a woman’s wishes and personal values, and preserve the doctor-patient relationship. This bill does not preclude a woman from receiving medical treatment.”
Erick Muñoz, Marlise’s husband, also spoke in support of the bill:
“When Marlise died, I did my best as a husband to fulfill her wishes. I don’t want to tell any family what to do in such a difficult time with such a private decision. I just want every family to have the right to make the best decision for them without interference from the government.”
We agree. Politicians and government must trust Texas families to make decisions about end-of-life care. And they should respect the doctor-patient relationship, allowing medical professionals to provide their best advice and care without politicians looking over their shoulders and dictating what they say and do.
Of course, the same right-wing politicians and activists who will oppose Marlise’s Law also push legislation that restricts access to abortion care, family planning and other reproductive health care services. They rage against intrusive government — unless they want government to keep Texans from making intensely personal medical decisions they object to. They neither trust Texans to make such decisions nor respect medical professionals to provide the expert advice and care they are trained to provide.