Why You Should Care about Marlise Muñoz
Lest you think the case of Marlise Muñoz, the pregnant woman who was kept on life support against her family’s wishes, has nothing to do with infertility, think again. CNN’s opening to their report shines a beam of light on what was really at play here, and it wasn’t the best interests of the mother:
A wrenching court fight — about who is alive, who is dead and how the presence of a fetus changes the equation — came to an end Sunday when a brain-dead, pregnant Texas woman was taken off a ventilator.
I’ve been reading about this court case with horror because any of us could be Marlise Muñoz. An otherwise healthy woman, 14 weeks pregnant, 33 years old, collapses in her kitchen. She is declared brain dead, but the hospital keeps her alive for two months for the sake of her unborn child. As the LA Times reports, “The hospital says it is compelled to do so by the Texas Advance Directives Act, which says in part: ‘A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient’.”
In other words, even brain-dead, a woman in Texas can be forced to continue to gestate a fetus.
Of course, she isn’t alive to protest this treatment of her body.
Reproductive health laws have far-reaching effects: the most visible one being abortion, but the backdoor one being fertility treatments. Instead of outlawing abortion outright, which would be illegal, tiny steps are taken to bring certain states closer and closer to that edge of outlawing abortion. Along the way, they make restrictions that impact fertility treatments, impact embryo storage, and paint procedures with a wide brush that doesn’t take into account various situations.
If you don’t stand up to fight for all reproductive rights — even the ones that will personally never affect you since you’ve already decided what you’re willing to do on a personal level — you can’t be upset down the road when freedoms you DO want are taken away. If you want a say over what happens to your embryos/fetuses and your body (and you want to extend that courtesy of decision making to the bodies of your daughters or sisters or mothers or friends or neighbours), you need to think hard about stories like Marlise Muñoz. Because while the law didn’t sound that unreasonable on paper, it certainly looked unreasonable in practice. And the only thing that changed Muñoz’s situation is that her fetus was deemed nonviable.
I said it before: “Legal wranglings are not a pu-pu platter where you can say hands-off my embryos and making decisions for me about their creation and storage but then leave women who want to choose whether or not they carry a child back on the plate. Either your government’s hands are in your uterus or they’re not.” I’m taking the whole meal; I will do anything to protect your rights when it comes to your body and the body of your unborn child and not give that decision-making to a state government that doesn’t need to live out the consequences of its laws on the personal level. There are things I can believe with my heart on a personal level that I don’t need to create laws that impact other people in order to have that belief be true for me.
My heart is heavy for the Muñoz family. I wish them a lot of comfort as they grieve the loss.