TODAY   |  January 25, 2014

Texas judge orders pregnant woman off life support

A judge has ordered a Texas hospital to take a pregnant, brain-dead woman off life support. The emotional conclusion is the end to a case that has raised many questions about end-of-life care. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports.

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>>> emotional conclusion to a case that raised a lot of questions about end-of-life care. a judge has ordered a texas hospital to take a pregnant, brain-dead woman off a ventilator. ed gutierrez reports.

>> reporter: today, one family's heartbreaking legal battle appears to be over.

>> it's a sad situation all the way around.

>> reporter: marlise munoz's husband says in late november, she fell from an apparent blood clot, and doctors at this hospital in ft. worth, texas , told him she was brain-dead, but she was also 14 weeks pregnant, and because of that, doctors refused to disconnect her ventilator. in a court document, marlise's husband, erick, wrote, "i have had to endure the pain of watching my wife's dead body be treated as if she were alive."

>> it's very clear in this case that she has explicitly stated that she does not want to have this done, and the family concurs.

>> reporter: the hospital's lawyers argue they were complying with a texas law that prohibits withdrawing life-saving treatment from a pregnant patient.

>> we are not about making law. we are not about contesting law.

>> reporter: with munoz now 22 weeks pregnant, on friday, her family asked a court to step in, and the judge ruled in their favor, saying the state's law did not apply in this case because munoz is dead. at least 31 states have similar statutes.

>> while this case brings closure for one family, it does not answer the larger question of whether states can insist that life support be continued for a pregnant woman , even though she has no hope of recovery.

>> reporter: hours before the hearing, the hospital publicly acknowledged that the fetus is not viable, but in ft. worth, the case prompted vigils by opponents of abortion.

>> praying that the decision of the court, the decision of the family would be in the best interests of the child .

>> reporter: in a case that was truly a matter of life and death --

>> we are relieved that erick munoz can now move forward with the process of burying his wife.

>> reporter: the judge has ordered the hospital to take munoz off her ventilator by monday afternoon. for "today," gabe gutierrez, nbc news.