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Irony: Pro-life Catholic hospital wins malpractice suit by declaring fetuses are not people

Irony: Pro-life Catholic hospital wins malpractice suit by declaring fetuses are not people

In a legal twist that seems to go against Catholic theology, (and conflicts with the reasons for their steadfast refusal to allow their employees to have access to birth control via Obamacare and other pro-choice initiatives around the world, which we have extensively reported on), a chain of Catholic hospitals today beat a malpractice suit by claiming that fetuses are not people. Dead is 31 year old Lori Stodghill, who was seven months pregnant with twin boys the day she died.  The Colorado Independent, who broke the story, gives details:

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.

Stodghill's husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit immediately following the tragedy on behalf of himself and their two year old surviving daughter, saying that Staples should have made it to the hospital that night, or at least instructed the frantic hospital staff to do a caesarean section on her, which an expert testifying said may not have saved the mother, but it may have saved the twin babies.

The defendant in the case was the Catholic Health Initiatives, the non-profit that runs the St. Thomas More hospital.  The Independent reported that last year the hospital reported national assets of 15 billion dollars.  Furthermore, the Independent notes, their mission statement reflects their pro-life values, based on Catholic theology and ethics, including Catholic health care as a "ministry [that] 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.”

The chain's lawyers made a mockery of that pro-life mission statement by using as a defense the premise that "fetuses are not people."  So legally, the hospital is not liable for the death of the twins as they were not considered people anyway–it was an unfortunate, unavoidable medical tragedy.

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.”

So far the argument has been accepted with wins on the county level and in the Colorado Court of Appeals.  The high court is now considering whether to take the case.   What the blowback will be from the Vatican is anyone's guess at this point in time, and the legal position is sure to enrage anti-abortion evangelicals and renew the debate on personhood and Roe vs. Wade.

About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
  • Deborah_B

    I am so glad you reported on this, Dakota. It's sadly ironic and hypocritical, especially considering that a woman died in Ireland because the pro-birth Catholic church refused to perform a needed abortion.

  • Peter

    One more nail in RCCs coffin, I hope.

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