Naishtat Files Bill to Protect Pregnant Women's End of Life Care

Bill would strengthen end-of-life directives for pregnant women

Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin.
Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin. (by Photo by John Anderson)

An Austin lawmaker is seeking to expand rights for the state’s pregnant women.

Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, introduced “Marlise’s Law,” (HB 3183) with the aim of granting pregnant women equal rights as other Texans when making end-of-life decisions by ridding the health and safety code of a rule that requires pregnant women remain on life support.

The Texas Directives Act holds that "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment" from a pregnant patient without a judge's order. So while doctors must adhere to written statements (“advance directives”) laying out what citizens want during end-of-life medical treatment in the event they are incapacitated, pregnant women are excluded from this protection.

"Being pregnant should not prohibit a woman from having her personal decision respected. The law should reflect the consideration a woman puts into planning the treatment she wishes to receive, or not receive, when she is no longer able to express herself," said Naishtat. "Planning for end-of-life care is a deeply personal decision-making process for all persons, including those who may be pregnant."

On the flip side, Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, recently proposed legislation (HB 1901) that would push women further away from being in control of their directives by amending the statute so that even when a brain-dead mother’s fetus is "maturing and developing," life-sustaining treatment may not be removed, as the Chronicle reported this week. Additionally, the conservative lawmaker’s bill would appoint an attorney for the fetus of brain-dead, hospitalized pregnant women to "represent the unborn child's interests.” Krause said his bill was inspired by the tragic case of Marlise Muñoz, a pregnant woman who collapsed after suffering a pulmonary embolism in 2013 and remained on life support at a Fort Worth hospital against her family’s wishes and her own, explicit directive. However, Munoz’s family has vowed to testify against the proposed law, seeing it as disrespectful to families who have their loved ones' interests at heart.

Unlike Krause’s Muñoz-motivated bill, the legislation is supported by Marlise’s mother, father, and husband, who spoke out in opposition to government interference when it comes to end-of-life decisions and promoted increased autonomy for pregnant women during a press conference hosted by the ACLU of Texas Thursday morning. Pulling the family through a heartbreaking and frustrating ordeal, the state and hospital prolonged Munoz’s use of a ventilator for 62 days until her family secured a judge’s order ruling her legally deceased. Through this legislation, the family hopes others will be spared the same painful experience.

“The state not only tied our hands, but those of the doctors and the hospital too,” said Lynne Machado, mother of Marlise Muñoz. “What should have been an immensely private and personal moment for our family was used as a political debate. The doctors weren’t practicing medicine, they were practicing politics.”

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