It’s Karen Ann Quinlan and Terri Schiavo all over again.
Only this one’s different. This one involves a pregnant woman, and the rules have changed. Because this is Texas, where, thanks to George W. Bush, fetuses trump everything, and the only sacred thing is birth. But this isn’t just about Bush and it’s not just about Texas, either.
Did you know that roughly one third of the United States have enacted similar laws? Where do you live? Have you checked the rules? Is there the remotest chance you could become pregnant, then incapacitated, and then be forced into the role of incubator at the pleasure of the State?
This article, from the Vermont Law Review, dates back to 2005, and was published shortly after Bush signed the bill into law in Texas.
DIE FREE OR LIVE: THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF NEW
HAMPSHIRE’S LIVING WILL PREGNANCY EXCEPTION
But the article isn’t about Texas. It’s about New Hampshire. Which other states have such laws on their books? I can’t tell you. There is no quick summary to tell me which states ignore Advanced Directives in favor of pregnancy. And I’m not in a position right now to devote the time it will take to review the laws in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the US territories.
I strongly suggest that if you have even the remotest chance of becoming pregnant and you think you have a Living Will or Five Wishes document in place, you check your state laws and make sure your family won’t be trapped in Erick Muñoz’s living hell.
We don’t understand nearly enough about the dying process that I would even consider the possibility of remaining on life support to continue carrying my unborn fetus, unless that fetus was near term. A couple of days? Yeah, I could see that, but Marlise Muñoz was barely out of the first trimester when she collapsed. Based on nutrition alone, that’s going to have a massive effect on the health of the baby. Then there’s the oxygen deprivation, circulatory regulation, and more.
And then, there’s the enormous load of ethical questions of cost for care and who should bear them. Texas is absolved of the responsibility. If the hospital shunts its responsibility back to the already grieving father who is taking legal action against the hospital, how is this even remotely right or responsible?
The question is so charged with ethical questions, in fact, that the first judge set to hear the case has recused herself. Don’t skip this article. It has links to a bunch of other related articles I won’t reproduce the links here, and to understand what’s happening in Texas, and could happen in your state as well, you need to read through all of them.
In fact, there are so very many questions, starting with the right to choose coming from the family, I can’t even begin to list all the reasons why this is so tremendously awful. It’s Quinlan and Schiavo all over again.
I recognize that I’m an atheist at best, but there’s doing what’s right and then there’s this. Religion and morality get in the way of doing the right thing and that’s the sole reason for the separation of church and state.
I find it profoundly disturbing that there is no simple summary of the states that would force a family to maintain a pregnant woman on life support as an incubator for her fetus. In fact, the laws are so variable I strongly suggest that if you have such a document in place, you investigate for yourself what your family will face if they have to make the decision for you.
Pregnancy is such a loaded event. It’s hard enough to imagine the responsibilities of caring for a person from birth through to adulthood. We invest so much in child bearing and so little in child rearing, and focus so much attention on abortion and choice, that we forget sometimes the state will trump our right to choose. If you think about it, you shouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that the next logical step is jail for miscarriage, but that’s the case in some of our states.
Government so small it fits into a woman’s uterus.
Think about it. Fight against it, because we’re just one thin line away from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
[Addendum 1: After publishing this post, I found the following link, to the Center for Women Policy Studies’ article entitled Pregnancy Exclusions in State Living Will and Medical Proxy Statutes. I strongly recommend this article if you or your child(ren) are of an age where pregnancy is an issue. Whether you live in one of the five states that allow advanced directives for pregnant women (Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Vermont) or not, pay very close attention to your state laws.]
[Addendum 2: MSNBC is reporting that John Peter Smith Hospital has been ordered by a Texas judge to remove Mrs. Muñoz from life support, no later than 5 p.m. CST on Monday, and that her death on November 28th places her outside the legal requirement for maintaining the acknowledged non-viable pregnancy. It is unclear whether the hospital’s administration will follow the judge’s ruling at this time.]