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Attorneys say brain-dead Texas woman being kept on life support has fetus with severe defects

FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 file photo, Erick Munoz talks about his wife, who is brain dead and being kept on life support in accordance with Texas law, from their Haltom City, Texas home. Munoz’s attorneys said in a statement Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, that the fetus that Marlise Munoz is carrying has several “abnormalities,” including a deformation of the lower body parts that make it impossible to determine its gender. (AP Photo/The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Ron T. Ennis, File)

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FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 file photo, Erick Munoz talks about his wife, who is brain dead and being kept on life support in accordance with Texas law, from their Haltom City, Texas home. Munoz’s attorneys said in a statement Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, that the fetus that Marlise Munoz is carrying has several “abnormalities,” including a deformation of the lower body parts that make it impossible to determine its gender. (AP Photo/The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Ron T. Ennis, File)

DALLAS - The pregnant, brain-dead Texas woman being kept on life support over her family's protests is carrying a fetus that is "distinctly abnormal," attorneys for the woman's husband said Wednesday.

Marlise Munoz remains hooked up to machines in a Fort Worth hospital, while her husband and the hospital are locked in a court battle about whether to retain life support.

The case has raised questions about end-of-life care and whether a pregnant woman who is considered legally and medically dead should be kept on life support for the sake of a fetus. The case has gotten the attention of groups on either side of the abortion debate, as anti-abortion groups argue Munoz's fetus deserves a chance to be born.

Erick Munoz said his wife, a fellow paramedic, was clear with him before he found her unconscious on Nov. 26: If she ever fell into this kind of condition, pull life support. But John Peter Smith Hospital says it's bound by state law that prohibits the withdrawal of treatment from a pregnant patient, although several experts interviewed by The Associated Press have said the hospital is misapplying the law.

Munoz's attorneys, Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek, issued a statement Wednesday describing the condition of the fetus, now believed to be at about 22 weeks' gestation. King and Janicek based their statement on medical records they received from the hospital.

"According to the medical records we have been provided, the fetus is distinctly abnormal," the attorneys said. "Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined."

The attorneys said the fetus also has fluid building up inside the skull and possibly has a heart problem.

"Quite sadly, this information is not surprising due to the fact that the fetus, after being deprived of oxygen for an indeterminate length of time, is gestating within a dead and deteriorating body, as a horrified family looks on in absolute anguish, distress and sadness," the attorneys said.

Spokeswomen for the hospital and the Tarrant County District Attorney's office, which is representing the hospital in the lawsuit, declined to comment Wednesday.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday. Munoz's lawsuit asks a judge to order the hospital to pull life support and return Marlise Munoz's body to her family.

Several experts have said the Texas Advance Directives Act doesn't apply in this case because Marlise Munoz, having suffered brain death, is legally and medically dead — a key argument in Erick Munoz's lawsuit.

Munoz previously told the AP he wasn't confident about the health of the fetus. His wife was 14 weeks pregnant when he found her unconscious in November, possibly from a blood clot.

A 2010 article in the journal BMC Medicine found 30 cases of brain-dead pregnant women over about 30 years. Of 19 reported results, the journal found 12 in which a viable child was born and had post-birth data for two years on only six of them — all of whom developed normally, according to the journal.

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Follow Nomaan Merchant on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nomaanmerchant.

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