Marlise Munoz, wife and mom, appeared to suffer a pulmonary embolism Nov. 26, 2013, leaving her without brain activity. A traumatic event for any family to be sure. But the Munoz family's situation is complicated by the fact that Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant at the time of her suspected embolism, and Texas law prohibits withholding life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient — regardless of her wishes or the age of the fetus. Marlise's husband Erick hopes to go before Texas legislature to petition them to change the law. But the Munoz's family's situation brings up an interesting discussion, one at the heart of the abortion debate: Does the right to life for one human supersede the right to how another human wants to live, or, in this case, die?

Texas has been in the headlines a lot this past year over the abortion debate. In June 2013, pro-choicers everywhere tweeted #StandwithWendy as then-Senator Wendy Davis filibustered for 11 hours straight against restrictive abortion legislation. The state made the news again a month later in July when Governor Rick Perry signed similar legislation into law, giving the Lone Star State some of the toughest abortion laws in the nation. And now the abortion debate again heads back to Texas, but this time disguised as a right-to-die case. At the forefront of the pro-choice debate now is a Texas law prohibiting life-sustaining treatment from being withheld from a pregnant woman, despite her advance directives, and the 19-week pregnant woman it is currently affecting.

At first glance, Marlise Munoz's case seems pretty straightforward. The family is reporting she is clinically brain-dead, though the hospital won't confirm this for health privacy protection reasons. Her husband Erick says her wishes were clear, that although she didn't have a signed Do Not Resuscitate order she'd expressed her desire to not have her life prolonged artificially. Were Marlise not expecting her second child when she collapsed, this likely would have garnered no media attention at all.

Marlise vs. Terri

Many are comparing Marlise's situation to that of the most notable right-to-die case in recent years, that of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who lived in a "persistent vegetative state" for 15 years before dying in 2005. In Terri's case, her husband petitioned the courts to have her feeding tube removed, which Terri's parents contested. The much-publicized battle between Terri's husband and her parents lasted seven years, eventually landing in the U.S. Supreme Court (who passed it back down to lower courts) before she finally died. Post-mortem autopsy confirmed "massive and irreversible brain damage," which backed her husband's contention that she was vegetative with no hope of recovery.

Terri's case was a tough one, heartbreaking to those on both sides. I don't think her death brought happiness to anyone, lest of all her husband who petitioned for it to begin with. But those who compare Terri to Marlise forget two very notable differences. First, Terri wasn't brain-dead. Her brain was still functioning, although it's debatable what level of awareness she had. And, second — and I'd contend more importantly — Terri wasn't pregnant. Terri's case focused on one human's right to die. Marlise's case involves not only a human's right to die, but another human's right to live.

There is another life to consider

Marlise's son has a heartbeat, one which is normal in every detectable way. As of now the doctors cannot determine if he suffered any damage as a result of the lack of oxygen and treatment following Marlise's collapse. Doctors don't know how long Marlise was unconscious before she was found, so they truly have no way to evaluate if he could have been harmed when Marlise's event occurred. They say tests at 24 weeks will give them a better idea as to whether he sustained a notable injury. Right now he is growing on schedule and appears to be a healthy boy. But even if he wasn't, even if tests show Marlise's son to have some sort of physical damage, does that give Erick the right to decide to end his child's life? And isn't this the abortion debate at its crux?

But who's to say Marlise would have been so adamant about her advance directives if she knew it meant the death of her unborn child?

I'm not saying it's an easy decision for Erick. He's lost his partner, has a 16-month child already and is now dealing with the potential loss of his unborn child as well — effectively at his hands. But who's to say Marlise would have been so adamant about her advance directives if she knew it meant the death of her unborn child? Was this specific situation ever discussed? Or would she have gladly offered her body up as a human incubator for the few months it will take her son to reach viability outside of her?

I've discussed this situation with my husband on several occasions, and not just since Marlise's plight has hit the news. Post-birth of both of our sons I specifically instructed him should anything happen, keep me alive to keep our baby fed. I'm a huge breastfeeding advocate and both of my children exclusively breastfed through eight months. I wasn't at all worried about the shell of a body I'd leave behind. If it could be used to nourish and grow my young, then use it. Marlise's view may not be the same as mine, but do we know?

It's not right to die, it's right to live

We know what Marlise's choice was prior to her collapse: She had every intention of carrying her baby to term. No one is debating that, were she fully functioning, she would want her baby to live.

For most on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate the central issue is the mother's right to choose when and if she becomes a mother. Usually the prevailing bottom line for pro-abortionists is this: The woman's right to live how she wants supersedes the child's rights to anything — even to life. "My body, my choice" has been the tagline for years. Well, we know what Marlise's choice was prior to her collapse: She had every intention of carrying her baby to term. No one is debating that, were she fully functioning, she would want her baby to live. I don't see how her current state suddenly makes her choice any different at all.

Unlike clear-cut right-to-die situations, there are two lives to take into account. That's what brings Marlise's tragedy into the right-to-life arena. But unlike most pregnancy termination situations, the best interests of both Marlise and her unborn child will be considered. We have Texas law to thank for that.

My heart goes out to the entire Munoz family and the tragedy that has befallen them. I sincerely hope that regardless of the outcome, they are able to heal their hearts and move on from this dreadful event.

For another perspective^ What the hell? Are you seriously keeping a woman hooked up to machines against her will and that of her family so she can serve as a technically dead incubator for a fetus that may or may not be viable anyway? Where do the people come from who write these laws? Do they have brains? Keep reading for the rest of Janelle Hanchett's opinion >> 

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