Fetuses-aren't-people argument was "morally wrong," says Catholic hospital
Catholic Health Initiatives has acknowledged that it was "morally wrong" for its lawyers to argue in court that fetuses aren't people. As explained in our cover story "The Meaning of Life," the Englewood-based operator of 78 Catholic hospitals in seventeen states claimed that it couldn't be held liable for the deaths of two unborn babies who died at St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City because "under Colorado law, a fetus is not a 'person.'"
The lawsuit was filed by a man named Jeremy Stodghill, who sued Catholic Health Initiatives and St. Thomas More Hospital 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 in 2006. Doctors decided not to do an emergency Cesarean section to try to save the babies -- which Jeremy believes was a terrible mistake.
After learning of the case, Colorado's Catholic bishops announced they would "undertake a full review" of the lawsuit. "From the moment of conception, human beings are endowed with dignity and with fundamental rights," the bishops said in a statement.
Last week, the three bishops met with four Catholic Health Initiatives executives, including the organization's president and CEO, Kevin Lofton. Today, both the bishops and CHI issued statements, which are on view below.
"CHI representatives acknowledged that it was morally wrong for attorneys representing St. Thomas More Hospital to cite the state's Wrongful Death Act in defense of this lawsuit," Catholic Health Initiatives' statement says. "That law does not consider fetuses to be persons, which directly contradicts the moral teachings of the Church."
The organization also pledged to refrain from further arguments about Colorado's wrongful death law, which it says does not allow fetuses to sue. "Although the argument was legally correct," the statement says, "recourse to an unjust law was morally wrong."
For their part, the bishops said they "commend CHI for its rapid acknowledgement of this situation and its commitment to rectifying any harm it may have caused. We join CHI in affirming the fundamental truth that human life, human dignity, and human rights begin at conception. No law can ever mitigate God-given human rights."
Both statements also mention Catholic Health Initiatives' legal victories: "Two courts of law -- the Circuit Court in Fremont County and the Colorado Court of Appeals -- have supported the position of CHI and St. Thomas More Hospital that nothing done by doctors, nurses and other staff members would have changed this horrible outcome."
Stodghill has his sons' footprints tattooed on his chest.
Stodghill has now appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. If the high court were to hear the case, Catholic Health Initiatives says, "the Wrongful Death Act would not be among their considerations." Instead, it says, the main question is whether the hospital was negligent in caring for Lori Stodghill and her unborn twins. "The Circuit and Appellate courts have overwhelmingly concluded otherwise," Catholic Health Initiatives notes.
But Beth Krulewitch, one of Stodghill's attorneys, says that's not entirely true. "What I first and foremost asked the Supreme Court to do is to send the case back to the Court of Appeals to decide the issue of whether the Wrongful Death Act precludes this type of claim," she says. In other words, she'd like the appeals court to rule on whether a father such as Stodghill can sue for the wrongful death of his unborn babies.
Furthermore, she says Catholic Health Initiatives' statement that it has "never pursued a collection" of $47,000 in legal fees from Stodghill is also only partially true. While the hospital didn't ask to garnish Stodghill's wages, it did ask for legal fees. Once they were awarded, Krulewitch says, "the hospital came to us and said it would give up the $47,000 if Jeremy agreed not to appeal and we said, 'No, we're not going to do that.'"
When Krulewitch filed a motion asking the court to postpone the payment of those fees, she says Catholic Health Initiatives opposed it. Stodghill ended up declaring bankruptcy.
Continue to read the two statements.