“Marlise’s Law”: Protecting the Autonomy and Dignity of Brain-Dead Pregnant Women

Allison M. Whelan, J.D.
Senior Fellow, Center for Biotechnology & Global Health Policy, University of California, Irvine School of Law
Guest Blogger

On March 12, 2015, Texas Representative Elliot Naishtat (Austin) filed HB 3183, which would repeal the Texas law that currently prohibits pregnant women from exercising their advance directives.  The existing statute includes the following language:  “I understand that under Texas law this directive has no effect if I have been diagnosed as pregnant.” The bill strikes this sentence and would allow health care providers and medical institutions to honor a woman’s wishes about end-of-life care.

The bill is known as “Marlise’s Law,” named for Marlise Muñoz of Fort Worth, Texas, who was kept on mechanical support for two months after she was declared brain dead in 2013. Muñoz collapsed in her home in November 2013 when she was 14 weeks pregnant. She was declared brain dead two days later but John Peter Smith Hospital said it was legally prevented from removing life support because she was pregnant. Continue reading

The Hot Wave of Anti-Abortion Legislation

Allison M. Whelan, J.D.
Senior Fellow, Center for Biotechnology &Global Health Policy, University of California, Irvine School of Law
Guest Blogger

As the majority of state legislatures get back in session, it is clear there will be no dearth of “anti-choice” legislation proposed and considered throughout the country.

In Texas, Representative Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) is pushing a new law that would provide representation to fetuses in court hearings. This law responds to Marlise Munoz’s case, a brain-dead pregnant woman left on life support for two months because doctors refused to honor her family’s request to remove her from life support. Doctors claimed they were prohibited from doing so because Texas law prohibits withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment from pregnant patients, regardless of their previously-expressed wishes.

South Dakota Representative Isaac Latterell (R-Tea) is sponsoring House Bill 1230, which seeks to ban dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures sometimes used in second-trimester abortions. The bill uses inflammatory and graphic language (for example, making it illegal to “knowingly behead a living unborn child”), arguably intended to provoke disgust over the procedure to increase support for the bill. HB 1230 includes criminal penalties and physicians violating the law may be charged with a Class 1 felony and face fifty years imprisonment.

Fifty Ohio legislators have introduced House Bill 69, a “fetal heartbeat” law that would outlaw abortion after a heartbeat can be detected. This can occur as early as six weeks gestation, before some women even know they are pregnant. Continue reading

Concussion laws lead to increase in health care utilization

By Christine Baugh

Between 2009 and 2014 all U.S. States and the District of Columbia implemented concussion legislation. Generally modeled after Washington State’s Zachery Lystedt Law, most of these statutes require that youth and adolescent athletes are provided with information about concussions prior to sports participation, that they are removed from play if they are suspected of having sustained a concussion, and that they receive clearance from a medical professional prior to returning to sports participation. One of the main purposes of the Zachery Lystedt Law, and presumably those laws modeled after it, is to prevent the catastrophic neurological injury that can occur when a youth athlete returns to play too quickly following a concussion.

Gibson and colleagues recently published their study “Analyzing the effect of state legislation on health care utilization for children with concussion,” in JAMA Pediatrics. This study compared concussion care utilization for adolescents age 12 to 18 in states with and without concussion legislation using an insurance claims database. After controlling for potentially confounding factors such as median income and number of insured individuals per state, Gibson et al. found that states that had implemented concussion legislation had increased concussion care utilization (92% increase) compared to those without legislation (75% increase). The increases in care utilization were driven primarily by increases in visits to the doctor’s office and to a neurologist, not through increases in emergency department care, which the authors described as encouraging.

Continue reading