Fetuses-aren't-people lawsuit: Bishops to review Catholic hospital's argument
Colorado's Catholic bishops say they will "undertake a full review" of a lawsuit in which Catholic Health Initiatives, an Englewood-based operator of 78 Catholic hospitals in seventeen states, has argued that it can't be held liable for the deaths of two unborn babies because fetuses are not people. The bishops say the review will examine "the policies and practices of Catholic Health Initiatives to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church."
The lawsuit in question is the subject of this week's cover story, "The Meaning of Life." It involves a man named Jeremy Stodghill, who is suing Catholic Health Initiatives and St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City for the wrongful death of his wife and unborn twin sons. His wife, Lori Stodghill, was 28 weeks pregnant when she died of a pulmonary embolism at St. Thomas More Hospital in 2006. Doctors decided not to do an emergency Cesarean section to try to save the babies -- which Jeremy believes was a terrible mistake.
Catholic Health Initiatives asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. "Under Colorado law, a fetus is not a 'person,'" Catholic Health Initiatives' lawyer wrote, "and plaintiff's claims for wrongful death must therefore be dismissed."
When Westword originally called the Diocese of Pueblo for comment, a spokeswoman referred us to the Colorado Catholic Conference, which describes itself as "a united voice of the three Catholic dioceses (that) speaks on public policy issues." But a spokeswoman for that organization did not return phone calls or e-mails.
Now, the bishops in Pueblo, Denver and Colorado Springs have issued a statement:
The Catholic bishops of Colorado learned recently of the deaths of Lori Stodghill and her two unborn children, which took place at St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City, Colorado in 2006. We wish to extend our solidarity and sympathy to Lori's husband Jeremy, and her daughter, Elizabeth. Please be assured of our ongoing prayers.
From the moment of conception, human beings are endowed with dignity and with fundamental rights, the most foundational of which is life.
Catholics and Catholic institutions have the duty to protect and foster human life, and to witness to the dignity of the human person -- particularly to the dignity of the unborn. No Catholic institution may legitimately work to undermine fundamental human dignity.
Catholic Health Initiatives is a Catholic institution which provides health care services in 14 states, providing care to thousands of people annually. Catholic Health Initiatives has been accused by some of undermining the Catholic position on human life in the course of litigation. Today, representatives of Catholic Health Initiatives assured us of their intention to observe the moral and ethical obligations of the Catholic Church.
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
Continue for comments from the Archdiocese of Denver's chancellor.