Almost two months after Marlise Munoz, age 33 and then 14-weeks pregnant, was declared brain dead at John Peter Smith Hospital in Forth Worth, Texas, and her husband and parents fought to have her removed from life support, a judge has sided with her family.
In a widely debated and watched case that put Texas’s Advance Directives Act – stating that life sustaining measures could not be removed from a pregnant patient – front and center, resolution may have come for Marlise’s husband, Erick, with whom she has son Mateo, 16 months, and her parents Lynne and Ernest Machado in Tarrant County District Court. Judge R.H. Wallace ordered that the hospital remove life support by 5 p.m. on Jan. 27.
After an hour of hearing both sides’ arguments, Wallace stated, “I respect JPS’ arguments in trying to follow the law, but every section doesn’t apply to someone who is dead.”
However, following the hearing, JPS hospital’s spokesperson issued a statement that did not indicate it would immediately follow the judge’s order.
“JPS Health Network appreciates the potential impact of the consequences of the order on all parties involved,” says hospital spokesperson J.R. Labbe in a statement, “and will be consulting with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office.”
Understanding the law that Texas, along with at least 30 other states, has on the books to provide life sustaining support to a pregnant patient put the Munoz case in the middle of much discussion about how much should be done to keep a brain dead pregnant woman on life support – and some discussion of whether or not the law should be changed.
“The law has no application if she is dead,” explained Laurence McCullough, Ph.D., professor of medicine and medical ethics at Baylor College of Medicine, adding that the rare event – where a formerly healthy pregnant young mother like Marlise collapses, like she did on Nov. 26 from what doctors suspect was a pulmonary embolism – makes it very difficult for all involved.
“An event like this is totally shocking,” McCullough says.
On Wednesday, attorneys for Erick Munoz, who filed suit against the hospital on Jan. 14, released information that Marlise’s fetus was “distinctly abnormal.” On Friday, both sides agreed that the fetus was not viable “at the time of this hearing.”
It was their wish to study medicine and rescue others that brought Erick and Marlise Munoz together in the first place – she was a paramedic and was tutoring him to become one when they fell in love. The oldest of two children born to Ernest, now retired from the Air Force and Lynne, a retired teacher, and fluent in both German and English, Marlise fell fast for the quiet, reserved Munoz.
“She was like me, the life of the party and he is very much like my husband, a man of few words,” Machado told PEOPLE.
The couple married April 1, 2013 before a Justice of the Peace with their son Mateo as a member of their intimate wedding party.
“She was always laughing, making jokes, says Tim Whetstone, vice president of the Crowley Professional Firefighters Association who works with Erick, a paramedic and firefighter, and was a friend to the couple. “He is a loving father and was very excited about becoming a dad again.”
Whetstone says that the couple’s training as paramedics gave Erick professional insight into his wife’s condition.
“He knows what happened here and he should be allowed to make the decision he knows his wife wanted,” Whetstone says.
•With reporting by JEFF TRUESDELL
For more on the Munoz case, pick up this week’s copy of PEOPLE on newsstands today. To donate to a fund for Munoz medical bills, set up by the Crowley Professional Firefighters Association, donors may go to any Wells Fargo location and reference the Erick and Mateo Munoz fund.