Thursday, February 26, 2015

Texas Draft Law Forces Legally-Dead Pregnant Women to Deliver Unwanted Babies

by Nomad

One Texas legislator seems determined to stop at nothing to protect the life of the unborn. Even if it means keeping a clinically-dead mother alive long enough for the baby to be born. 

Fort Worth boasts one of the most conservative legislators that Texas has produced. Republican Rep. Matt Krause is the son of a Tyler, Texas pastor for- I kid you not- at Green Acres Baptist Church. 

Before entering politics, Krause was a intern and then Texas director of Liberty Counsel which is a non-profit legal and educational organization that, according to its mission statement, is committed to “restoring the culture one case at a time by defending the sanctity of human life, the traditional family, and religious liberties.”

His background therefore undoubtedly played a part in his decision to draft legislation that would open up a lot of complicated questions about patient and family rights versus the rights of the unborn. 

The Muñoz Case
Rep. Krause felt that laws in Texas regarding the rights of the fetus in need of tightening still further following the case of Marlise Muñoz.
According to local news reports the Texas woman was 14 weeks pregnant when she unexpectedly collapsed. Tragically, Marlise was declared brain dead following oxygen deprivation related to a possible blood clot in her lungs.

With no signs of brain activity- generally considered a sign of life- her family asked her physician and the hospital, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, to remove her from all life support. That should have been the end of a very sad story.
However, the hospital declined, citing state law that prohibits removing life support from pregnant women.

Brittney Martin writing for the Dallas Morning News fills in the rest of the story.
Her family watched her body deteriorate for two months before a state district judge ruled that the Texas Advance Directives Act, which states that “a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant patient, did not apply because Muñoz was legally dead.
For Krause, this court decision was a mistake that needed to be rectified. 

The Krause Law
The proposed law dictates that life-support must be continued "regardless of whether there is irreversible cessation of all spontaneous brain function of the pregnant patient" and that the life-sustaining treatment must continue to allow the unborn child to mature.

According to provisions in the draft bill, the hospital or health care provider must contact Attorney General if the life-sustaining treatment of a pregnant patient is at issue. In addition the Krause bill would require the Attorney General to appoint a legal representative for the unborn fetus in court proceedings.

The family's consent as a representation of the patient's wishes, called an "advanced directive,"according to the bill, will not override the rights of the fetus. The rights of the patient will, in fact, take a back seat. 

The executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Lynn M. Paltrow, told explained to The New York Times:
“This is what happens when laws give officials the authority to treat fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as if they are already completely separate from the pregnant woman."
What makes the  law that Krause has proposed so offensive is that the woman has been reduced to a fetus hosting uterus without any rights at all.

On the Practical Side
Interestingly the bill makes no provision for which party will be required to pay for the costs of the life support or how those costs will be covered if the patient's families cannot afford the life support.

If that sounds hard nosed, take a closer look.

One source breaks down all of the costs, including the costs of medical ventilation, and long-term ICU, the C-section, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU),  and came up with a grand hospital bill total of anywhere from $439,500 to $984,500.
That of course presumes there will be no complications to the baby from what would likely be a premature birth. 

And there is the problem of keeping the mother alive too. As every woman knows, pregnancy is a strain on the body of a healthy active woman. A woman who is in a vegetative state, entirely immobile and subject to infections and bedsores and the whole proposition of carrying a child to term becomes a million dollar exercise in cruelty and futility.

If that wasn't enough for a family to deal with. the expenses also exclude the added costs of the inevitable burial of the released mother.  

Also unclear is whether insurance coverage would even apply to a person who is already- by law- dead. Normally a health insurance ends with the death of individuals insured. As one expert points out, insurance coverage for a woman that has been declared brain dead is a gray area. Can the courts of Texas actually force an insurance company to pay?

If insurance companies refuse to pay, grieving families will be further financially victimized by being forced to pick up for treatment  for which it gave no consent.
Courtesy of the state of Texas. 

Are state legislators who vote in favor of Krause's law also planning to cover those and all other unforeseen expenses? Isn't it reasonable the child born of such a strange background become a ward of the state, since the State has had a crucial role in the child's birth. (In that respect, the parents have been reduced to "breeding appliances" for conservatives in Texas.)

Mother and Child: Competing Rights
Apart from the dubious morality and expense, there is the core question of rights precedence, that is, why should a fetus have more rights than a pregnant woman?
 This question was examined in a Boston Globe article last year. As Ruth Graham noted in her 2014 essay,
Thanks to a patchwork of state court decisions and laws passed to protect pregnant women, punish abusers, promote public health, and discourage abortions, fetuses have steadily been gaining legal rights in American courts—rights that often conflict with those of the women who carry them. The shift has happened despite the failure, even in conservative states, of laws to establish “fetal personhood” outright.
Some see such "fetal protection" laws as a new tool in the fight against legal abortion. Those laws were intended to offer some protection against mothers who carelessly engage in behavior dangerous to the fetus, or to protect pregnant victims of domestic violence. 

All very well, however, there are issues at how the laws are being applied, specifically in terms of the civil rights of mothers. 
As the Boston article notes, in the last five years, since these laws have become more widespread, pregnant have been subject to arrest under the fetal harm statutes for falling down stairs. There have been women arrested for driving with blood-alcohol levels that are in fact half the legal limit. 
In some more outrageous cases, women have been forced against their will to undergo Cesarean sections, or spend months on bed rest.
Whatever the motives, the laws have an effect with no real parallel elsewhere in the law: Essentially, two entities have begun to compete for rights in one body.
If Krause has his way, the phrase "over my dead body" may no longer be just a rhetorical device for many women and their families in Texas.