Catholic Ministry States: Fetuses Are Not People

Filed in National by on January 24, 2013

Why would a religious organization who has been extremely vocal when it comes to abortion, contraception and the unyielding belief that life begins at conception suddenly claim that state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

Because they are being sued.

Here’s the background:

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.

Stodghill’s lawyers are claiming that while the mother’s life could probably not have been saved, an emergency C-section could have saved the twins.

Catholic Health Initiatives is lead defendant in the case, and their mission statement says:

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.”

Hmmm… “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,” and “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”

Looks like these directives/principles don’t apply when they’re being sued.

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.

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.”

Can we please stop listening to these hypocrites now?

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A stay-at-home mom with an obsession for National politics.

Comments (10)

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  1. The attorneys are just arguing the current application of the Colorado case law to their clients. That is hardly hypocritical. If the Church hired a lobbyist to keep or implement that or advocated this as a position that should be, I could see your point.

    Right now you have none.

    If it were I, I might ask the court to rule for the personhood of the pre-born and take my chances on the fact that the Hospital had no control over the timing of the doctor they had on call who is likely an independent contractor. Sue the doctor not us when we provided every resource available. Even if I lost, but gained the precedent, it would be worth it to me. Still that is not what the attorney’s are trained to do. They are trained to argue for their client’s interest in the case in front of them based upon current law not shape public policy. It is sad but true.

  2. cassandra_m says:

    Except that the law is contrary to their beliefs, right? In the case of providing birth control to their female employees, they don’t mind pleading for an exception to the law in order to comply with their beliefs. Or so they claim. And now, when abandoning their culture of life means that they don’t have to pay out any money, they do it.

    And *of course* Delusional David would be here actually defending the hypocrisy.

  3. puck says:

    If someone’s faith gets in the way of providing medical care, they should be limited to emptying bedpans in real hospitals and not allowed to have any decision-making authority. I’m tired of negotiating what care they won’t provide.

  4. Jason330 says:

    An ability to rationalize your way out of cognitive dissonance is a vital life skill for every wingnut.

  5. Another Mike says:

    David, you are correct that they are applying Colorado law as it is written, but it is hypocritical.

    There is much more to this story. Mr. Stodghill has already lost in two lower courts, and there is no guarantee the Colorado Supreme Court will take the case. There is some argument that the fetuses could have been saved with an emergency C-section and about how quickly Mrs. Stodghill’s ob-gyn had been notified.

    The Colorado Catholic Conference, which is the church’s lobbying arm in that state, and Catholic Health Association declined comment. Oh, and Catholic Health Initiatives has gone after Mr. Stodghill for legal fees. Just to twist the knife a little deeper.

    Read an excellent overview of the case, with perspective from both sides, here: http://www.westword.com/2013-01-24/news/catholic-church-is-a-fetus-a-person/

  6. Joanne Christian says:

    No matter how hypocritical you think it is, it’s the law. But seriously, nobody needed the OB-GYN to do the C-section, his being off-site already ruled out that glimmer of hope. You have about 2-1o minutes to get a term baby out in trauma when mama takes her last breath–a 31 weeker is already compromised w/ lung issues, so potential for viability not so swell. Regardless, the ER physician, or surgical house staff there (intern, resident, surgeon happening to be making rounds, or one already in the ER), could have done this emergency C-Section while praying like hell. The real fool was the ER person, who didn’t make the SECOND call to house staff. It’s a harsh reality, but his answering the page or not had no bearing in the demise of baby in utero. Time on the clock took care of that–and I would be angrier, if that SECOND, immediately after paging OB wasn’t made. Any port in a storm…….

    And seriously, would you think differently if charged doctor was in the delivery room with a different patient, or at another hospital with another patient?

  7. cassandra_m says:

    No matter how hypocritical you think it is, it’s the law.

    So is providing birth control to your female employees, which doesn’t stop them from pushing back on that claiming some religious exemption. We’re not disputing the detail of the C-Section, just the legal rationale — that this 7 months past conception fetus has no entitlements to any rights.

  8. pandora says:

    I have no idea if anyone could have been saved, but the audacity – and jaw dropping hypocrisy – of Catholic Health Initiatives is the point of the post.

    Their faith obviously comes with a price tag. “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.*****”

    **** Unless you sue us and we may have to pay money, then… all that stuff we said doesn’t count.

    Know what else is the law? The ACA. Didn’t notice the Catholic Church being so inclined to follow that law. But in this case suddenly “it’s the law” is their excuse.

  9. AQC says:

    I agree Pandora. This case was going to be tragically sad no matter what, but the hypocrisy of the church is amazing!

  10. John Berryhill says:

    “The attorneys are just arguing the current application of the Colorado case law to their clients. That is hardly hypocritical.”

    A defendant has the absolute right to waive any defense on their behalf.

    The Colorado law doesn’t say that the hospital MUST assert that law as a defense to liability in this case.

    The client has the ultimate say in what claims or defenses it wants to assert.

    Republican David’s notion, that somehow it is up the attorneys to decide whether to assert this law as a defense to liability is outstandingly wrong. The client, and only the client, has the authority to make that call upon being advised by the attorney. That would be like saying a client can’t decide whether or not to accept a plea bargain, plead guilty, or defend a case. No attorney makes that decision on behalf of a client of sound mind.

    The hospital can accept liability for the deaths of the two unborn children, or the hospital can fight it. The Colorado law in question does not dictate that choice for them. The hospital and its ownership have made the choice to invoke the statute in question as a defense to liability. And to have done so is outstandingly hypocritical.

    Acting as if the hospital had no choice in its defenses is just grasping for straws here.

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