Catholic hospital argues fetuses are not people

In a malpractice case involving a Colorado woman and her unborn twins, lawyers for a Catholic Hospital are arguing that the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.” From the Colorado Independent:

Lori Stodghill was 31-years old, seven-months pregnant with twin boys and feeling sick when she arrived at St. Thomas More hospital in Cañon City on New Year’s Day 2006. She was vomiting and short of breath and she passed out as she was being wheeled into an examination room. Medical staff tried to resuscitate her but, as became clear only later, a main artery feeding her lungs was clogged and the clog led to a massive heart attack. Stodghill’s obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, who also happened to be the obstetrician on call for emergencies that night, never answered a page. His patient died at the hospital less than an hour after she arrived and her twins died in her womb.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Stodghill’s husband Jeremy, a prison guard, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of himself and the couple’s then-two-year-old daughter Elizabeth. Staples should have made it to the hospital, his lawyers argued, or at least instructed the frantic emergency room staff to perform a caesarian-section. The procedure likely would not have saved the mother, a testifying expert said, but it may have saved the twins.

The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”

But when it came to mounting a defense in the Stodghill case, Catholic Health’s lawyers effectively turned the Church directives on their head. Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

Read full story here.

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Category : The Lead

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  1. John B. Chilton

    Is this why abortion opponents have never tried to tamper with the definition of a person for the purposes of wrongful death? Or have they?

  2. Dallas Bob

    This absolutely takes your breath away. The Roman Catholic Church once again shows the utter absurdity of its position on choice. It arrogantly and pompously lectures us all about the sanctity of life from inception until natural death – except now when it will cost them they conveniently and hypocritically jettison their position. Meanwhile the rest of us mortals are expected to follow their nonsensical teaching. They have been hoisted by their own petard and this would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

    Bob Button

  3. Bill Dilworth

    I’m not really sure that the attorneys representing Catholic Health can fairly be called “the Catholic Church,” Bob. For that matter, neither can Catholic Health Initiatives. I’d be really surprised to find that the decision to use this argument came from the UCCB, much less the Vatican.

    I’m kind of surprised that the ER staff was so stymied by the lack of the OB-GYN. Once it was apparent that Dr N0-show wasn’t going to be answering his page, oughtn’t the attending physician have done a C-section on her/his own authority?

  4. tgflux

    Silly Jeremy Stodghill, don’t you know it’s only unwanted-by-the-pregnant-woman (overwhelmingly First Trimester) fetuses, costing the RCC no money, that count as “sacred human life”?

    JC Fisher

  5. John, I would presume that, had it passed, the “personhood” amendment to the Colorado Constitution would have obtained for wrongful death as well. Certainly, that has been included among the reasons that in all states where “personhood” amendments have been offered state medical societies have opposed them.

    Marshall Scott

  6. Dallas Bob

    The Catholic Bishops sure didn’t have a problem inserting themselves into the Affordable Healthcare Act’s requirements concerning contraception for Catholic hospitals. Now we are supposed to assume they can’t be held responsible for the positions of Catholic Hospitals expressed in court? Sorry Bill I don’t buy it – until the Catholic bishops come out and repudiate this legal strategy they are total hypocrites.

  7. Dallas Bob

    The Catholic Bishops sure didn’t have a problem inserting themselves into the Affordable Healthcare Act’s requirements concerning contraception for Catholic hospitals. Now we are supposed to assume they can’t be held responsible for the positions of Catholic Hospitals expressed in court? Sorry Bill I don’t buy it – until the Catholic bishops come out and repudiate this legal strategy they are total hypocrites. And this episode absolutely shows it.

    Bob Button

  8. Dallas Bob

    A self-serving press release from the bishops aimed at damage control does not cut it. Let’s see whatever comes of this “investigation”. When the bishops come out and disavow their legal strategy stating they will pay millions of dollars in damages if their investigation shows their hospital’s negligence I will start to listen. But remember this is the Church that fought against their child abuse victims tooth and nail (See the Rudy Kos trial in Dallas for a vivid, stomach turning example). This is yet another example of rank hypocrisy from an institution that claims they are persecuted because of contraception but gleefully pulls the levers of power to take away the constitutional right to choose. This sordid affair is extremely sad but unsurprising.

  9. Bill Dilworth

    “Disavow their legal strategy”? Again, this was the strategy of CHI’s lawyers, not that of the bishops of Colorado. CHI is sponsored by a group of women’s religious orders,and run a board of trustees, with nary a bishop in sight:

  10. Dallas Bob

    The Catholic Church is massively involved in its hospitals, including its bishops. From one of the link above:

    “The Catholic bishops of Colorado are not able to comment on ongoing legal disputes. However, we will undertake a full review of this litigation, and of the policies and practices of Catholic Health Initiatives to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

    Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, S.T.L., Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Denver

    Most Rev. Michael Sheridan, S.Th.D, Bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs

    Most Rev. Fernando Isern, Bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo

    If they aren’t hypocrites they will repudiate the defense of the hospital’s attorneys as it clearly conflicts with Catholic teaching. The above listed bishops claim authority to ensure Catholic Health Initiatives’s faithful witness to Catholic teaching. Seems reasonable to expect them to weigh in just as they have with contraception.

    Bob Button

  11. Bill Dilworth

    Yes, RC bishops have the duty and authority to hold RC institutions accountable for their stance on RC teaching. For example, the local bishop controls which Catholic theologians may teach in a Catholic university.

    My point was that the bishops were not the ones directing the lawsuit, or deciding the strategy, or claiming that fetuses are not persons. They are getting involved after the fact. Seeing the bishops’ hands in every stupid, hypocritical, or wrong decision made by any RC institution is simple conspiracism, and denies the agency of individuals. Believe it or not, some attorneys are actually capable of unscrupulous behavior without direct orders from the local diocesan chancery.

    I imagine that the CHI Board of Trustees will be called in on the carpet about this, and that the fetus defense will be dropped; I don’t see how the CO bishops could avoid doing it, even if they wanted to.

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