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Medical Bills for Woman on Forced Life Support, Fetus Could Reach $1.6M; Columnist Calls Situation 'Dehumanizing'

Medical Bills for Woman on Forced Life Support, Fetus Could Reach $1.6M; Columnist Calls Situation 'Dehumanizing'

January 14, 2014 — A "conservative estimate" of medical costs for a pregnant Texas woman who has been kept on life support since November against her and her family's wishes could total $1 million to $1.6 million, including care for the child if the fetus survives delivery, MedPage Today reports (Wickline, MedPage Today, 1/10).

The woman, Marlise Munoz, was 14 weeks pregnant when she was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, after collapsing, apparently from a blood clot in her lungs. According to Munoz's parents, officials at the hospital told the family that Munoz is brain dead. The Munoz family prepared to ask that the hospital remove life support, per her end-of-life wishes, but hospital officials said they would not comply because of a state law that prohibits withdrawing or withholding "life-sustaining treatment" from a pregnant patient.

According to Munoz's mother, hospital officials said they will make a decision regarding delivery at 22 to 24 weeks, although they have not commented on the fetus' health or viability (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/8).

Cost Calculations

According to MedPage Today, hospital bills associated with life support, delivering of the fetus and care for the likely premature infant would cost between $439,500 and $984,500, depending on when the delivery occurs.

Specifically, care for Munoz herself costs about $5,000 per day, which would total $350,000 after 70 days. At that time, Munoz would be 24 weeks pregnant and the fetus would have a 50% chance of survival, MedPage Today reports. The cost would increase to $560,000 if the hospital decides to keep Munoz on life support for 112 days, until she is 30 weeks pregnant, at which point the fetus would have at least a 92% chance of survival.

A caesarean section would cost roughly $4,500 for physicians' fees alone, according to the Healthcare Blue Book. Care for the infant would cost about $3,500 per day in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, where he or she could remain for two months to four months, at a cost of $210,000 to $420,000, depending on when the delivery occurs.

Experts noted that Munoz's health issue, which deprived her of oxygen, also could have harmed the fetus. Neonatologist Brian Carter of Children's Mercy Hospital in Missouri, said the fetus is at risk of cerebral palsy (MedPage Today, 1/10).

Texas Law is 'Dehumanizing,' Hogue Writes

"In the most tragic way possible, [Munoz's] case is forcing us to confront the reality that in far too many places, women are literally seen in the eyes of the law as vessels whose primary function is to produce more offspring," writes columnist and NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue in The Nation.

"Sound dehumanizing? That's exactly what it is," she adds.

Hogue compares the case with those of Bei Bei Shuai, who was charged with feticide after she attempted suicide while pregnant, and Alicia Beltran, whose past history of drug misuse was used against her in court in an attempt to force her to take anti-addiction medication during her pregnancy.

Such cases "add up to a clear picture of how many politicians think it's not only acceptable, but preferable, for women to lose rights once they become pregnant," Hogue writes, adding, "And increasingly, state laws reflect that outdated paradigm."

Commenting on the Texas case, she writes, "[A] law that forces complete strangers to desecrate the dying wish of our loved ones shows us how far we have strayed from [the] very cherished" American values of "freedom and privacy" (Hogue, The Nation, 1/10).