New York filmmaker Rebecca Haimowitz is making a documentary about a Fort Worth family that, in late 2013, made the heart-rending decision to remove a 33-year-old brain-dead woman from life support, only to have their grief prolonged when officials at John Peter Smith Hospital refused to do follow their directives, based on a Texas law forbidding pregnant women from being removed from life support.
Haimowitz has launched an Indigogo fundraising page to try and raise the $20,000 she needs to make the film, including coming to Texas to follow efforts now underway to strengthen the law further. On the Indigogo page, Haimowitz says she has “exclusive access” to the family of Marlise Munoz, and is “truly committed to creating a multi-layered film that shows the human story behind the headlines.”
But to do that, Haimowitz says, she needs to come to Texas to follow the story as it continues to unfold. “This is a crucial chapter in our characters’ lives, and we need your support now so we can capture these events as they unfold,” she said.
As of Tuesday morning, March 3, with 39 days left in the fundraising effort, Haimowitz’s Indigogo page had raised just over $7,000 of its $20,000 goal to film The Pregnancy Exclusion. Perhaps the LGBT community, as people who know what it’s like to have government trying to tell us what we can and can’t do with our own bodies, are natural allies in the fight against state Rep. Matt Krause’s HB 1901.
Marlise Munoz was 33-years-old and 14 weeks pregnant on Nov. 26, 2013, when her husband, Erick, found her unconscious at their Fort Worth home and rushed her to John Peter Smith Hospital. Doctors there said that she had suffered a brain embolism — a blockage in an artery caused by a blood clot — leaving her brain dead. Her family, attempting to adhere to her expressed wishes to never be kept alive by machines, told doctors to remove her from life support.
That’s when things got, well, complicated. Hospital officials told Erick Munoz they couldn’t remove his wife from life support because of a little-known Texas law that expressly forbids a pregnant woman from being taken off life support, regardless of any prior directives the woman might have signed. Erick Munoz had to file a lawsuit, noting that his wife was brain dead and their the fetus she carried was suspected to be non-viable and already showed signs of severe deformity in its lower body, hydrocephaly and a heart problem.
An attorney who had helped rewrite the Texas state law being used to keep her body on life support testified that there was a problem in applying the law to a patient that was no longer alive. And Judge R.H. Wallace Jr. ruled Jan. 24 that the hospital had to abide by the family’s wishes and remove Marlise Munuz’s body from life support. That happened at 11:30 a.m. at Jan. 26, 2014.
Judge Wallace, however, did not rule on the constitutionality of the law, and so it remains in effect in Texas. And now, state Rep. Matt Krause is trying to strengthen the law to take away a family’s chance to get judicial rulings like the one that allowed Marlise Munoz’s family to follow her wishes.
Krause has introduced HB 1901 that declares “even if it appears that the mother is brain dead, as long as the unborn child is maturing and developing, life-sustaining treatment may not be removed. The appointed guardian ad litem’s job is to look after the interest of the unborn child and ensure that the judge has the best information possible on the condition of the child when making their ruling.”
The family of Marlise Munoz is speaking out against Krause’s legislation and Haimowitz wants to document their efforts.