A Father’s Right?

It’s a curious thing to me: once a sperm leaves a man’s body, he no longer has rights or claims to his genetic material until it re-emerges as a fully-formed human. This is evident in a recent case in Texas. Erick Munoz is the father of a toddler and an unborn baby or, more appropriately, a fetus. His wife, who suffered a pulmonary embolism a week after Thanksgiving, is brain dead, breathing with the help of machines. At the time of her “death,” her fetus was 14 weeks old. It was her wish that she not live like this.  It was her husband’s wish that he honor her request to die peacefully, along with their fetus, which suffered the same lack of oxygen and chemical cocktails as the mother.

But the state of Texas, being (as you know) right-to-life extremists, says no. The mother must remain on life support as an incubator. The baby will be carried to term–or at least until viability.  But what about Munoz’s wishes as a father? Apparently men have no rights when it comes to the production of babies, and this is something that seems to be overlooked.  A man can contribute the raw materials, but after that, it’s up to either the woman or the state to determine what becomes of the fetus.

This makes no sense. If a woman is incapacitated and unable to make these important decisions, the next in line should be the father, not the state, not the politicians and not the doctors, who, no doubt, would not like strangers making these choices for them either. Yet it’s the father who will suffer, watching his wife act as incubator to a fetus that most likely has serious health and developmental issues, too. He knew his wife’s wishes. She was early in her pregnancy. If the child survives in poor health, Munoz, now a widow, will have the burden of caring for a healthy toddler along with a sick infant.

You might be thinking, “But the baby could be born perfectly (and miraculously!) healthy.” To which I would answer, “Perhaps. But the decision, the suffering and the risks are not yours to make.” Or you might be thinking, “Is it right to let a fetus die simply because it suffered brain damage?” And the brutally honest answer is, yes. It’s not only right, but also fair and natural in the grand scheme of life.

In Texas we complain that the government does not belong in our business. Those of you who live here know that. Hell, Rick Perry even vetoed a law that would prohibit drivers from texting while driving. So Texas will make certain that you have the right to text, even if you can harm people. But if you only want to make a choice that affects you and your family, then apparently the government becomes part of your family. You probably know, too, that Texas has—by far–the highest number of executions in the country. We’re pro-life, right?

It’s pretty clear to me that only two people are responsible for creating and raising a child: the mother and the father. In the absence of the mother, the father should have the same rights to choose as the mother would have had. If the child is born in a vegetative state, who will pay for the care? How will one parent have the time, energy and emotional stamina to raise a disabled child while he still has another mouth to feed, a mortgage to pay and Little League games to coach?

The father has a right to his own life, too. At the very least, the state and its people have no right to decide for him.


24 responses to “A Father’s Right?

  1. Debbie, you have a way of writing the thoughts running through my brain that I seem unable to articulate. I feel exactly the same way you do about this. Who the hell is the state of Texas to force this man into this? This is so sad, and so wrong.

  2. I always knew Texans were “different” — but didn’t know how much until I started reading your blog. I don’t know how anybody with a brain can stand living there. 🙂 Of course, I should talk; Florida isn’t much better (warmth refugee from the northeast).

    No question, this is ridiculous and so disrespectful of both the woman and her husband. Right wing religious nut-jobs are all about “freedom” — except when it doesn’t agree with their religious preconceptions.

    Gay rights…women’s rights…personal choice (from the right to choose to the right to smoke marijuana and everywhere in-between) — they want to tell us all what to do and think.

    But don’t dare tell your governor that he can’t text and drive…don’t try to control guns…and keep your hands off Christmas and our Budweiser. Gosh, what hypocrites.

    • @peter belowski Well….this is not my first choice for “home”!

      I see you’ve been listening: “But don’t dare tell your governor that he can’t text and drive…don’t try to control guns…and keep your hands off Christmas and our Budweiser. Gosh, what hypocrites.” Yes. Funny how no one wants limits on their freedoms, but they don’t mind telling others how to live…


  3. It’s a pretty safe bet the hospital and doctors will charge the husband for their unwanted services as well.

  4. My spouse and I were discussing this last night. He pointed out that forced use of this woman’s uterus amounts to an involuntary organ donation. There’s no other case I know of where the government can force an organ donation against the wishes of the family.

    He also thought the family might have a case against the government based on freedom of religion, if they could make a case that the woman is dead and that they have a religious obligation to bury her, and the state is interfering with their funeral customs. Pulling that off probably depends on what religion the family is, if they are going to make that convincing.

  5. That is not pleasant reading. Religious hypocrites are just about the scum of the earth. I have little good to say or think about them.

  6. This is a mixed bag for me. As you know, I have a child with a developmental disability – though it was not caused by injury, but rather, a fluke in chromosomes. In any case, I can’t necessarily agree that it is “right” to allow a fetus to die simply because it has possibly suffered brain damage. It’s a slippery slope, with a lot of gray – it’s not a black and white issue. And in all honesty, it does feel perilously close to saying that the developmentally disabled and the brain injured are inferior and should not live. I also realize that I am speaking from emotion on this. I am pro-choice, but, again, it’s a slippery slope in my mind.

    That said, this is certainly a unique situation. The husband, being next of kin, should be the one to decide on behalf of his wife and fetus. Were she alive and lucid, she would have the right to decide (and again, a woman with a brain injured fetus very well may CHOOSE to carry that fetus to term – there is no “right” or “wrong” – only different choices based on different people, circumstances, resources, belief systems, and so forth). That the husband in this instance has no apparent rights is outrageous.

    However, this brings up a whole other can of worms: if men are to have rights in this regard, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that a man who has gotten his girlfriend or wife or some one-night stand knocked up should have the right to prevent her from having an abortion if she so wished? Men don’t get to have a say because it’s not their bodies that have to grow and house and give birth to the resultant fetus. In many ways, men actually can just wash their hands of the whole thing once they’ve gotten their rocks off, you know? And historically, men have had far too much control over women’s bodies.

    • @Lisa, Yes, I thought about the issue in your first and last paragraphs. I just think it’s not the state’s decision to make or our place to judge….Forty or fifty years ago this would not have been a decision. Nature would have decided….This is just an awful situation for this family in so many ways.

      • It is awful, and I completely agree that it shouldn’t be up to the state. What will happen if the father decides to give up his parental rights over the fetus, or the baby once it’s born – which would not at all be surprising given the circumstances? Then the state and the taxpayers become responsible for that child.

    • Lisa, you beat me to it with your first paragraph.

      I am having some mixed feelings about North Dakota’s recent ban on abortion of fetuses with Down syndrome. Part of me, the part that is an advocate for my son and others with disabilities (perhaps a selfish part too) likes it. The part of me that is pro-choice dislikes completely.

      For me, it is all about the lives of those with disabilities being validated as equal to those without.

      Regarding this specific case, it should be the husband’s decision.

      And y’all are right. Conservatives only want less government if it doesn’t contradict the bible. They want a theocracy.

      • @Holly I know. It is a tough call. To me, this isn’t an issue of validation. It’s only about letting this guy make his own decisions. I would not want to be in that father’s shoes…So tragic…

  7. The sad case of the teenager who was declared brain-dead by the state of California, both that girl and this woman are being kept “alive”, even though, both are technically, and legally dead. The hospital in California would not insert a feeding tube because it was unethical. Texas is also unethically treating or abusing a corpse. In my opinion, the husband can not be held responsible for any bills after his wife was declared dead, and only responsible for medical bills for a live born child.

  8. Pretty sickening case, isn’t it. Again, the pro-fetus — but certainly not pro-adult-life crowd gets to horn in on the life decisions of everybody. It is one thing for a mother to risk her life to save a fetus (I’ve done that), but if I knew I was not going to be around to care for said child or my other children….yes, I’d as soon take that little bit of potential right out of the world with me.

    • @syrbal-labrys Your comment reminds me of something my father told me: “A mother can always have more children. A child cannot have another mother.” When it came down to a child or my mother, he said her life would always come first.

      I agree we always have responsibility to care for ourselves and our other children first.

  9. Once again you have hit the nail on the head so well. Thanks for being willing to explore such a difficult & controversial topic & handling it with such grace.

  10. How interesting this is going on while the 13-year-old brain-dead girl is having a breathing and feeding tube hooked up to her in accordance with her parents wishes. I wish I could go back to my biomedical ethics class and debate these issues and feel like I have nothing to loose. Now that I have children, these cases make me feel like I don’t get to have total control when it comes to making decisions for them.

  11. Such a sad situation for that family. Makes me want to run out and complete my Advance Directive. It’s pretty comprehensive here in Oregon but I’m sure there is always a scenario that no one thought of.

  12. Please don’ think me callous or cruel, but there are a number of times when I am thankful I am male. This case presents one of the few instances where being a male actually serves no purpose in the states eyes (other than being the sperm donor). What is being done to the mother and the fetus is unconscionable, and the fact the husband/father has no say in the matter is reprehensible at best.

    Although this may sound a bit extreme, I would not fault the father if – should the child be born handicapped or otherwise disabled – he enacted the Babe Moses Law (Texas law: http://roundrocktexas.gov/home/index.asp?page=426). It would make the child a ward of the state… the one that wanted the child born in the first place against the wishes of the biological parent(s). I think the father would be perfectly in his right to say: “You wanted it, you keep it.” (And I know this sounds cold and heartless.)

    It always strikes me as odd, or rather as completely hypocritical, when religious-right people scream about government getting into their business regarding education and public displays of theism, but are more than willing to try and tell others what to do and how to live (as Debbie already pointed out). I wonder how they would react if they were in this guy’s shoes. More important, I wonder how they would react if they were in the fetus’ position (conceptually). I wonder what they would think about a life of without real quality and a complete dependency on others. Wait! They would say they were moochers on the state welfare system. After all, sympathy only extends to the unborn by their reasoning, and you’re on your own after that.

  13. This isn’t about a fetus’s “right” to live (a fetus is not a person and thus has no rights), or about allowing a brain-damaged fetus to die. And it’s not about a man’s rights or responsibilities as a father. It’s about one woman’s specific request that this not happen to her. A perfectly sane, adult woman making a perfectly legal request. Where’s the respect for this woman!? I am incensed that any other action was even considered, much less implemented.

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