Emergency room

In case of dead twins, Catholic hospital claims no personhood before birth UPDATE: Reverses course, affirms personhood

Emergency room
A short hour after entering the emergency room, Lori Stodghill and her twin boys were dead. (Photo credit: Rosser321 on Flickr)

In early 2006, the Stodghill family suffered a grave tragedy. Wife and mother Lori was rushed to a Canon City, Colorado hospital while seven months pregnant with the couple’s twin boys. The Colorado Independent shares the story:

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.

A widowed Jeremy Stodghill – and now the single father of the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth – decided to bring a case for wrongful death against Catholic Health Initiatives. This Colorado-based nonprofit owns St. Thomas More Hospital, where Lori and the twins met their all-too-early deaths.

Already, Mr. Stodghill’s case has made it through two levels of Colorado courts. Both times, he has lost. In a matter of weeks, the Colorado Supreme Court will determine whether or not to hear his appeal.

While Mr. Stodghill’s loss is surprising in and of itself (for more details on the possible negligence of Dr. Staples and an emergency room doctor, read this article), what’s even more surprising is the legal argument being used by Catholic Health Initiatives. The Colorado Independent again explains the details:

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.

As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, 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.’

Of course, some will be quick to point out that the attorneys for Catholic Health Initiatives and the other defendants are merely arguing the law in Colorado on behalf of their clients. It’s true that, in Colorado, you must be born to be considered a person for many laws, including the Wrongful Death Act. Colorado is one of the few states to continually fail to pass even a fetal homicide law (though a few Colorado laws do increase the punishment for criminal offenders who knew a woman was pregnant). Very few – if any – unborn children are protected in any way, shape, or form by current Colorado law.

While the Catholic Health Initiatives indeed seems to be on the side of the law in this case, others will be led to ask if they are taking the moral high ground and the truly right position. Many expect Catholic organizations – especially Catholic nonprofits – to side with the unborn and to fight for their rights to be established in law. Official Catholic teaching in clear that personhood begins at conception and continues until natural death.

That is why it is particularly baffling when Catholic Health Initiatives uses a law that treats the unborn as non-persons simply for its own monetary benefit in direct violation of established Catholic values. Such actions do not befit a group of people known to stand up for the helpless, the innocent, and the oppressed.

The Colorado Independent said it best:

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.

What a shame, and what a multiplied tragedy both for the Stodghill family and for Colorado citizens at large.

UPDATE:

Catholic Health Initiatives released an official statement reversing course and affirming the personhood of unborn children.

The National Catholic Register has published an excellent piece on the details of this case.

  • Guest

    Good post. I’m still miffed that the mass media somehow considers this more newsworthy than the March for Life though.

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  • ProLifeMommyof2

    Like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Kathleen Sebelius, Andrew Cuomo & “Sister” Carol Keehan—this hospital is Catholic in name only.