A judge has ruled that a brain-dead pregnant woman in Texas must be taken off life support by 5 p.m. Monday.
Marlise Munoz, 33, who is believed to be about 22 weeks pregnant, "is deceased" and therefore not subject to a state law that prohibits withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant person, Judge R.H. Wallace ruled on Friday afternoon.
Munoz's family cried at the decision, according to a tweet by Jobin Panicker, a reporter WFAA in Dallas.
The ruling came after those family members of the Fort Worth woman asked for the move, in spite of objections from John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. The case has raised sensitive life and death issues complicated by revelations last week that Munoz's fetus is abnormal.
Husband Erick Munoz found his wife unconscious on Nov. 26, possibly due to a blood clot. He has said that she told him if she ever was in her present condition, she did not want to be kept alive.
The hospital maintained it was bound by state law that forbids withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant woman. But Wallace ruled the law did not apply in this case because Marlise Munoz "is deceased," Panicker tweeted.
The fetus is "distinctly abnormal," lawyers for Erick Munoz said in a statement Wednesday.
John Peter Smith Hospital had argued that it had to protect the life of the unborn child.
Hospital officials have said they were bound by a state law prohibiting withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant patient. Several experts interviewed by The Associated Press have said the hospital is misapplying the law.
The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. It also has gripped attention on both sides of the abortion debate, with anti-abortion groups arguing Munoz's fetus deserves a chance to be born.
The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, which is representing the hospital in the lawsuit, said the hospital was expected to issue a statement later Friday in response to the ruling.
Not much is known about fetal survival when mothers suffer brain death during pregnancy. German doctors who searched for such cases found 30 of them in nearly 30 years, according to an article published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2010.
Those mothers were further along in pregnancy - 22 weeks on average - when brain death occurred than in the Texas case. Birth results were available for 19 cases. In 12, a viable child was born. Follow-up results were available for six, all of whom developed normally.
CONTRIBUTING: Associated Press