Several weeks ago we wrote about the case of Marlise Munoz, a pregnant Texas woman who had been rendered incapacitated and placed on life support late last year. Since then her case has attracted national attention. Just recently, a Texas judge made a ruling on the case, ordering the hospital that had been keeping her on life support against her husband’s wishes to remove the life-sustaining treatment. The case has, much like the case of Terri Schiavo, brought renewed attention to the use of advance medical directives, as well as the differences in how state laws treat them.
Advance Directives and Pregnant Women
The Munoz case focused largely on two important factors. First, there was the issue of who gets to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person. In every state, including Texas, people have the ability to create advance medical directives that name a medical representative who can step in should that person become incapacitated. The representative will have the legal authority to make medical decisions on the incapacitated person’s behalf.
However, Marlise Munoz did not have an advance medical directives in place. Her husband, Eric, maintained that she had been very clear about her desires not to receive life-sustaining medical care if she were in a brain-dead state. This is exactly the type of injury that Marlise suffered, and though her husband Eric told the hospital about her wishes, they refused to comply with his choices made on behalf of his wife.
The hospital’s refusal is due to the second main issue that this case brought up; state laws about advance directives during pregnancy. Texas, like many other states, does not allow doctors to remove life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant woman regardless of what her advance directives, or her representative, might choose.
Living Wills in North Dakota and Minnesota
Every capable adult has the right to create advance medical directives, including a living will and a health care power of attorney. Like all other legal documents, people creating advance directives must do so in accordance with the laws of the state in which they reside.
In both Minnesota and North Dakota, state law prevents pregnant women from using advance directives. Should a pregnant woman in either state become incapacitated, her doctors will likely not be able to withdraw life-sustaining care even if her medical directives state that it is her wish they do so.
Yet regardless of what state laws require or limits, it’s important for everyone to have advance directives in place. Even though the Munoz case resulted in a court getting involved, having medical directives that state your wishes in detail is one of the best ways to prevent conflicts and avoid costly legal battles.