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The Source: Brain Death - Science, Ethics & Emotion


Marlise Munoz was a 33-year-old paramedic from Fort Worth who was 14 weeks pregnant when a pulmonary embolism left her brain dead in November of last year. JahiMcMath was a 13-year-old Oakland teenager when complications from a tonsillectomy left her brain dead in December. It is at this point that the similarities diverge.

McMath's family is battling the hospital to keep the girl on life support, with a respirator and being fed intravenously. Doctors have been vilified in the case as unfeeling as they try to convince the family there is no chance of recovery.

For months Munoz's family has wanted her taken off life support, allowing her body to die -- something doctors agree her brain has already done. The John Peter Smith hospital in Fort Worth points to a Texas law that prevents them from removing a pregnant woman from life support.

Sec. 166.049.  PREGNANT PATIENTS.  A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient. Acts 1989, 71st Leg., ch. 678, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1989.  Renumbered from Sec. 672.019 and amended by Acts 1999, 76th Leg., ch. 450, Sec. 1.03, eff. Sept. 1, 1999.

The two high-profile cases raise questions about the rights of hospitals,the state and families regarding people who are declared brain dead.

We talk with Jason Morrow, a medical ethicist and palliative care specialist at the UT Health Science Center, along with neurologist Rachel Garvin about brain death and try to separate the ethics from the emotion, the science from the rhetoric.

*The Source airs on KSTX 89.1 FM - audio from this show will be posted by 5:30 p.m.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive