The Cruelest Pregnancy

Frank Bruni

WHAT would Marlise Munoz have made of all of this?

We’ll never know. She can no longer form words. Can no longer form thoughts. It’s arguable that we shouldn’t even be referring to a “she,” to a “her,” because if she’s brain-dead, as her family has consistently said, then she meets the legal criteria for death in all 50 states, and what’s been tethered to machines in a hospital in Fort Worth for the last seven weeks isn’t exactly a mother. It’s an artificially maintained ecosystem, an incubator for a fetus that has somehow been given precedence over all other concerns: the pain of Marlise’s husband and parents; their wishes to put an end to this; their best guess about what her desires would have been; her transformation, without any possibility of her consent, into a mere vessel.

“A host,” her father, Ernest Machado, called her in an interview with Manny Fernandez of The Times. He used equally chilling language to describe her stillness and the rubbery feel of her skin, saying that she reminded him of “a mannequin.”

Ben Wiseman

Is her fate really what we mean when we speak of “valuing life” or “the sanctity of life,” to summon two phrases tossed around too quickly and simplistically? It seems to me that several lives are being devalued in the process, and that while there are no happy outcomes here, there’s also no sense or dignity on the chilling road that this Texas hospital is taking us down.

In late November, Marlise, 33, was found unconscious on the kitchen floor by her husband, Erick. She had apparently suffered a pulmonary embolism. At the hospital, according to Erick’s subsequent statements, it was determined that she was brain-dead, and he requested that she be disconnected from the machines that keep her vital organs functioning. He and she had both worked as paramedics and had discussed such end-of-life decisions, he said, and so he knew that she wouldn’t have wanted any extraordinary measures taken. The woman he loved was gone. It was time to come to bitter terms with that, and to say goodbye.

Hospital officials, supposedly acting on behalf of the state, won’t let him. They went ahead with extraordinary measures, because Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant, and while that fell well within the window when abortion is legal, a Texas law compels hospitals to provide life support for terminally ill patients with fetuses developing inside them.

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