A heartbroken Texas family who are fighting to have a pregnant wife and mother they say is brain-dead removed from life support has received more devastating news on the condition of her unborn fetus, according to their attorneys.
Marlise Munoz was approximately 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed on Nov. 26 at her home near Fort Worth, Texas, and was found unresponsive by her husband, Erick. Marlise, 33, had gotten up to check on their then 14-month-old son Mateo and never returned.
“We don’t know how long she was on the ground,” Marlise’s mother, Lynne Machado, 60, told PEOPLE. “One doctor said she was without pulse and without oxygen for over an hour.”
Against her husband and parents’ wishes – and wishes they say she made clear to them – Marlise was kept on life support at John Peter Smith Hospital in Forth Worth due to a law in Texas (and at least 30 other states) that prevents the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient. On Jan. 14, Erick filed suit against the hospital in Tarrant County District court. “Marlise cannot possibly be a ‘pregnant patient’ – Marlise is dead,” the lawsuit states.
As debate among medical professionals and ethicists nationwide has continued on the rare case, attorneys Jessica Hall Janicek and Heather King of KoonsFuller, P.C., law firm, who are representing Erick Munoz in the suit, released a statement Wednesday regarding the medical condition of the Munozes’s unborn child, now at approximately 21 weeks gestation.
“We are in receipt of medical records providing more specific information regarding the condition of the fetus,” the statement reads. “According to the medical records we have been provided, the fetus is distinctly abnormal. Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined. The fetus suffers from hydrocephalus [also known as "water on the brain"]. It also appears that there are further abnormalities, including a possible heart problem, that cannot be specifically determined due to the immobile nature of Mrs. Munoz’s deceased body.”
A hearing on the case is scheduled for Friday afternoon. When asked for a response to the family’s attorneys’ statement, hospital spokesperson J.R. Labbe wrote via email, “JPS Health Network will issue no further statements prior to tomorrow s 3:15 p.m. court hearing.”
JPS, a public hospital, is represented by the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, which serves as its legal counsel.
“Quite sadly, this information is not surprising,” the Munoz attorneys’ statement continues, “due to the fact that the fetus, after being deprived of oxygen for an indeterminate length of time, is gestating within a dead and deteriorating body, as a horrified family looks on in absolute anguish, distress and sadness. We reiterate, our client’s position is that the statute prohibiting the withholding of life sustaining measures from a pregnant patient does not apply to the dead.”
• With reporting by JEFF TRUESDELL
For more on the Munoz case, including interviews with ethicists, medical professionals and more from the Munoz family, pick up this week’s copy of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday