Lynne Machado, whose daughter, Marlise Munoz, has been brain dead and on life support for more than a month, with family photos in Fort Worth, Texas.

Lynne Machado, whose daughter, Marlise Munoz, has been brain dead and on life support for more than a month, with family photos in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo: New York Times

Fort Worth, Texas: The family of Marlise Machado Munoz, the pregnant woman being maintained on life support at a Fort Worth hospital against the wishes of her closest relatives, has hired an attorney, her husband said on Thursday.

Erick Munoz said he did not know if the lawyer had taken any legal action against John Peters Smith Hospital, where his wife has been hospitalised since she was stricken on November 26 with what doctors believe was a pulmonary embolism.

Marlise Munoz, 33, entered her 20th week of pregnancy on Monday, said the husband, who referred further questions to the attorney. The lawyer was in court and did not immediately respond to messages.

The county hospital in Fort Worth maintains that its hands are tied by Texas law that requires life support be maintained until a viable fetus can be delivered, usually after 24 to 26 weeks.

"JPS is encouraged by this development because the courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction and resolution in this matter," said J.R. Labbe, the county hospital system's vice president of communications and community affairs, in a prepared statement. "JPS remains focused on providing compassionate care to all patients while also following the law as it applies to healthcare in the state of Texas."

The law, which dates to the 1970s and has been revised twice, states: "A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment ... from a pregnant patient."

But several medical ethicists and attorneys interviewed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Associated Press questioned whether the law pertains when the expectant mother is brain dead.

"I think the Texas law cannot apply to the dead," said Art Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Centre in New York. "I think the hospital is wrong to insist that it does.

"I think the husband should find a lawyer and go to court to challenge the law both in terms of its application to a dead woman and as an unconstitutional infringement on his right to do what his wife would want," Mr Caplan said last week.

Erick Munoz said he and his wife - both paramedics - said they had discussed removing life support if either fell into a vegetative state. Moreover, she discussed the issue with her father, Ernest Machado, he added. The couple have a 14-month-old son.

MCT