Living Will May Not Be Valid If You're Pregnant

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 23, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As a Texas husband has learned, a living will may not be valid if the person on life support is a pregnant woman.

Erick Munoz, whose wife Marlise is in a coma, faced frustration when he asked doctors to fulfill his wife's wishes to pull the plug, reports Dallas-Fort Worth's WFAA-TV. While Marlise had discussed the issue of a "Do Not Resuscitate" order with her husband, even this legal protection would be void in light of Texas state law, because Marlise is pregnant.

Are living wills still valid for pregnant women?

Texas Law Prevents Pulling the Plug on Pregnant Women

Marlise, 33, was hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism in late November, when she was 14 weeks pregnant. She has not regained consciousness since.

Erick recalled his promise to her not "to be kept alive by machine," but Texas law prevents him from honoring her wishes, reports WFAA.

Under the Texas Health and Safety Code, a hospital cannot "withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment" if the patient is pregnant.

Normally an advance medical directive -- also known as a living will -- would be able to dictate when a patient can be withdrawn from life support. But under the laws of Texas and other states, patients like Marlise must be kept alive until the fetus is either successfully delivered or no long viable.

For Munoz and his wife, this means waiting until mid-February to determine if the then-24-week-old fetus can be removed, reports WFAA.

26 States Do Not Allow Pregnant Living Wills

Including Texas, there are 26 states in the nation which require life support and ignore living wills if the person is pregnant. Here is a list of those states:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Under these laws, more than half of U.S. states may prevent a pregnant woman's living will from being honored, especially if the fetus has any chance of surviving outside the mother's womb.

But even if you do not reside in one of these states, it's wise to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about how these laws may affect your living will.

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