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Preemptive measures

Posted on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at 11:49 am

As the nation begins to heat up on both sides of the issue of whether or not the pregnant woman in Fort Worth Texas should have been left on life support or not last Friday, commentators have neglected to examine the interests involved in making the decision.

There was potential for three central wrongdoings: The woman’s wishes for her own life could be ignored, the doctors could allow the baby to die, and the family could be left with a medical bill for operations they didn’t want performed. In a case such as this, I refer to the old saying, “life is for the living.” While Marlise Muñoz may have wanted to avoid life support, the interest of her living baby trumped hers. As she was already brain dead, the life support would not have caused her any physical harm, and the baby should have been saved. Thus, the other two wrongdoings must be addressed.

As noted in blog post on the Washington Post’s website, the minimum cost for life support runs somewhere from $2,000-$4,000 per day. Marlise Muñoz was on life support for two months. Assuming that the National Center for Biotechnology Information is correct in it’s claim that an American child is viable at 24 weeks of pregnancy, other women in the same situation could potentially be on life support for five months if they die at an early enough stage of pregnancy. Assuming a lower cost of life support of $4,000 per day, a family could be stuck with a bill of $560,000 over five months even if they desired to take their loved one off of life support.

Sticking this massive check on the Muñoz family when they strongly objected to the measure would be wrong, but allowing the child to die when it could have been saved was wrong as well. We’re “darned if we do, darned if we don’t.” A potential solution would be to bar doctors from taking a pregnant woman off life support as long as she is legally dead and a party comes forward that is willing to pay the costs to save the child. Although this is a callous approach, there are no “good” options here. I suggest that the Tennessee General Assembly look to pass a bill that mediates the different interests of the parties involved in a case such as this as a preemptive measure.

-Matthew Z. Huffer (matthew.z.huffer@vanderbilt.edu)