By Jana J. Pruet
FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas judge on Friday ordered a Fort Worth hospital to remove a brain-dead pregnant woman from life support, after her husband argued the fetus she has been forced to carry under state law is withering in her lifeless body.
The judge ruled that Marlise Munoz, now about 22 weeks pregnant, is dead. She has been on life support in a hospital since November 26 after suffering what her husband, Erick, believes was a pulmonary embolism.
District Judge R.H. Wallace gave John Peter Smith Hospital until Monday at 5 p.m. U.S. Central Time (1800 ET) to remove the ventilator.
"The defendants are ordered to pronounce Mrs. Munoz dead and remove the ventilator and all other 'life-sustaining' treatment from the body of Marlise Munoz," the judgment read.
Under Texas law, a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient, even if there is a "do not resuscitate" request from the patient or if the family of the patient seeks to end life support.
Lawyers for Munoz had argued that she was clinically dead, could no longer be considered a pregnant women and that the fetus she was carrying was severely damaged.
Erick Munoz broke down in tears as the judge read the ruling. His lawyer Heather King and Marlise Munoz's mother and father were also crying and hugged Erick for several minutes after court has adjourned.
They did not speak to media, who packed the courtroom.
Lawyers for the hospital had argued they were complying with a law that was intended to protect unborn children.
"JPS Health Network appreciates the potential impact of the consequences of the order on all parties involved and will be consulting with the Tarrant County District Attorney's office," the hospital said in a statement.
The couple are both paramedics and have made it known to each other that they do not wish to be kept on life support, Erick said.
Attorneys for Munoz have said the parents of Marlise agreed with her husband's request to turn off the ventilator.
The lawyers also provided medical records they said show that the fetus suffered from oxygen deprivation and appears to have deformed lower extremities.
Erick found his wife unconscious on the kitchen floor in late November when she was 14 weeks pregnant and rushed her to a hospital.
In July, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law tough new restrictions on abortion, including a ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy, marking one of the biggest victories in a decade for opponents of the procedure in the United States.
Outside the courthouse, a handful of supporters carried signs that read "Let Marlise Munoz Rest in Peace".
"There's nothing happy about today. It's a sad situation all the way around," attorney King said.
"We are relieved that Erick Munoz can move forward with the process of burying his wife," King said.
(Reporting by Jana J. Pruet, writing by Jon Herskovitz, editing by Cynthia Johnston, David Gregorio and Bernard Orr)