Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pro-Life Rubber Hits Road in Muñoz Crisis

At some point, if you want to get anyplace, the rubber's gotta hit the road.

It's called traction, right?

And for pro-life advocacy, traction isn't gained simply with legislation, but by individual acts of compassion, patience, diligence, and maybe even some inconvenience.  In real life, and real time.

Yesterday, we talked about the inconvenient truth a recent Dallas Morning News article revealed about pro-choice Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis.  But even more inconvenient truth was revealed about another story yesterday in court documents by lawyers trying to remove a pregnant mother from life support.

In Davis' hometown of Fort Worth, the Muñoz family is currently staring a double-tragedy in the face.  A young father discovered his pregnant wife collapsed on their kitchen floor in the middle of the night, unresponsive, and, as hospital doctors soon determined, brain-dead.

At the time, back in November, she was 14 weeks into her pregnancy, and medical staff at the hospital initially believed that her fetus was healthy.  According to Texas law, even though the expectant mother was being sustained purely by machines, they couldn't "pull the plug" until her fetus was viable outside of her womb, which is generally around the 24th to 28th week.

So the family faced at least ten weeks of life support, after which the fetus would be surgically removed from its comatose mother, and likely sustained by more medical equipment for at least part of the rest of its term.

Good grief - what agony for the family, right?

Well, apparently, it's an agony the family decided to try and mitigate by hiring lawyers to force the hospital to go ahead and end it all now.  Both for the brain-dead mother, and her unborn child.  Their actions have elicited a wave of concern from pro-life advocates across the Fort Worth - Dallas area, who feel it's their duty to oppose the Muñoz family on principle.  A life is a life, even when it's in the womb.

Then yesterday, lawyers for the Muñoz family released discouraging details about the actual health of the fetus.  According to their statement, unborn baby Muñoz is "distinctly abnormal," with lower extremities "deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined."

But that's not all.  The fetus apparently has water on the brain, and may even have heart problems, although doctors can't yet be sure, since its mother is immobile.

It's possible that all of these alleged deformities occurred as a result of whatever precipitated Mrs. Muñoz's fall, or more likely, the fall itself.  Nobody knows the reason why this otherwise healthy pregnant woman collapsed and, for all practical purposes, died last November.  Presumably, she'd gotten up in the middle of the night to get her firstborn child, now a toddler, something to drink.  It was their toddler's incessant crying that motivated his father to check and see what was taking his wife so long in pacifying him.  That's when he found her on the kitchen floor.

We don't know how she fell, or how violent her fall was.  We don't know for how long unborn baby Muñoz may have been deprived of essential oxygen before its mother began to receive medical attention.  Doctors speculate that Mrs. Muñoz suffered a pulmonary embolism, which is a blockage of an artery in the lungs.  Confirmation of this speculative diagnosis can only be made by an autopsy.

The more you think about it, and the more questions arise, the more ugly, bizarre, and even repulsive this narrative becomes.

It's at this point that we pro-lifers, looking on from the sidelines, would coo plaintively, "but what's in the womb is still a life.  The fetus isn't ugly, bizarre, or repulsive to God.  And it shouldn't be to us.  We need to preserve this fetus by keeping its mother on life support for a few more weeks until it's viable outside of the womb."

Okay, but is unborn baby Muñoz viable outside of the womb?

At first, when this unhappy story broke into our consciousness, nobody really knew the health of the fetus.  It hadn't yet been determined the extent to which the fetus might have been harmed - or indeed, we must consider, "terminated" - by the fall its mother unwittingly suffered.  Apparently, all of its basic vital signs were registering positively.  At first.  But now, as this pregnancy has progressed, medical science can determine more and more things.  A fetus' health can be more accurately measured.  And more truth can be revealed, whether we think that truth is convenient or not.

If medical ethicists thought they already had their hands full with the Muñoz case, this new information seems to give us a whole new ballgame.  On the one hand, we can hope and pray for miracles to take place inside of Mrs. Muñoz.  After all, with life, there is hope.  On the other hand, however, we can't deny that things look profoundly grim for the viability of unborn baby Muñoz outside of the womb, particularly when one considers that it will still have a long row to hoe through the rest of its natural term.  Even getting to the point of viability outside of the womb is no guarantee of anything; it's mostly a legal dot on the timeline for when the hospital can be officially allowed to turn off the life support for its mother.

For pro-lifers, isn't this where the rubber hits the road?  We're not talking moral abstractions, or safe sex, or sex within marriage, or the convenience of parenthood.  We're not even talking "womens' rights" or choosing to abort.  We like to rely on the slogan, "it's not a choice, it's a life."  But is it, in this case?

Yes, with life, there is hope.  But... is there life?

Is unborn baby Muñoz dead?  Is its fetus growing and maturing, or simply exhibiting the compounding of cells and tissue that are a remnant of developments instigated when its mother was still alive?  What is the definition of life?  If we pro-lifers are going to define life - at least, life in the womb - as a progressive maturation towards viability outside of the womb, even regardless of what we'd conventionally consider to be normal functionality of all limbs and organs, can we go with just a heartbeat in a fetus?  What about the brain?  If there's water on it, what does that mean about its ability to sustain life throughout the rest of its body?  We've all pretty much agreed that its mother is brain-dead, and we're all pretty much waiting to pull the plug on her that powers the artificial beating of her otherwise dormant heart.  Is there a time when we should also pull the plug on her fetus?

Cases like this are so rare, and their contributing factors so diverse, medical experts say no reliable data exists that can provide comprehensive answers.  Medically, ethically, or otherwise.

Oh, my goodness, this is such a confounding dilemma.  Pro-lifers cannot simply recite the mantra now about "all life is precious," because we can't say whether any more life is left inside of Mrs. Muñoz. 

Perhaps, if the Muñoz family were independently wealthy, we could encourage them to stay the course and wait and see some more, but who knows how much all of this is costing them, and how much insurance is paying for?  On the one hand, it sounds bitterly calloused to drag money into the discussion at a time like this, but hey, can pro-lifers maintain the dignity of life without at least acknowledging life's practical, albeit inconvenient, aspects?  We can shake our heads at how awful all of this must be for the Muñoz family, but who's going to step up and write the checks to support them?  After all, it's not like they've asked for these tragedies.  In fact, it's hard not to see any other reason for this than God allowing it to happen so He is somehow glorified through it, and through us.

Even that would be merely a theological platitude if pro-lifers didn't respect the dignity of life in all its forms.  After all, this isn't just about unborn baby Muñoz, but about its mother, and its father, and even a world of pro-choice spectators who love accusing us pro-lifers of focusing exclusively on the fetus. And you know what?  The rubber is about to hit the road in this hospital in Fort Worth, whether we pro-lifers model the Fruit of the Spirit or not.

Rhetoric and cliches won't work now.  But the traction of the Gospel, as we apply it to this real, incredible situation, can.

There is a time for everything; 
a time to be born and a time to die, 
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to search and a time to give up, 
a time to keep and a time to throw away... 
I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  
He has made everything beautiful in its time.  
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, 
yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
- from Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Update:  On Friday afternoon, January 24, a state district judge in Fort Worth ruled that Mrs. Muñoz should be removed from all life support apparatus by 5pm on Monday.  Recent tests by the hospital indicate that the fetus will not be viable outside of the womb.

Second Update:  On Sunday morning, January 26, after her family was given time to make their final arrangements, Mrs. Muñoz and her fetus were officially removed from all life support systems.

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