Fetuses-aren't-people argument was "morally wrong," says Catholic hospital

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Statement from Catholic Health Initiatives

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Feb. 4, 2013 -- There has been considerable attention and controversy recently involving the lawsuit over the tragic death in 2006 of Lori Stodghill and her twin unborn sons at St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, which is sponsored by Catholic Health Initiatives.

Four senior Catholic Health Initiatives executives, including Kevin Lofton, president and chief executive officer, met last week with Colorado's three top Church officials -- the Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, Archbishop of Denver; the Most. Rev. Michael Sheridan, Bishop of Colorado Springs; and the Most Rev. Fernando Isern, Bishop of Pueblo.

In the discussion with the Church leaders, 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. That law does not consider fetuses to be persons, which directly contradicts the moral teachings of the Church.

The representatives also unequivocally affirmed CHI's strict adherence to one of the Church's most basic moral commitments -- that every person is created in the image and likeness of God and that life begins at the moment of conception. It is an unfortunate and regrettable point of fact that Colorado law, as it now stands, fails to adequately protect the rights of the unborn.

Further, CHI expressed support for and solidarity with Lori Stodghill's husband, Jeremy, and the couple's daughter, Elizabeth. The prayers of CHI and the Catholic Church have always been with the Stodghill family throughout a heartbreaking ordeal that has now lasted more than seven years.

In their review of the facts in this case, the bishops also affirmed the exceptional care provided to Lori Stodghill at St. Thomas More Hospital. In fact, 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.

Indeed, District Court Judge David Thorson dismissed the case before trial, ruling that the evidence did not "present a triable issue of fact." While cited as a point of law by attorneys for St.Thomas More Hospital, the Wrongful Death Act, which both CHI and Church officials consider to be unjust, has played no role in the appeal process.

This case is now being considered for review by the Colorado Supreme Court. If the justices agree to hear the case, the Wrongful Death Act would not be among their considerations. The legal argument rests on "causation" -- that is, whether or not the medical personnel at St. Thomas More Hospital were negligent in caring for the 31-year old Lori Stodghill, who was 28 weeks pregnant with her twin unborn sons. The Circuit and Appellate courts have overwhelmingly concluded otherwise.

CHI has agreed that attorneys for St. Thomas More Hospital will not cite the Wrongful Death Act, which does not allow fetuses to sue, in any future legal hearings of this case. Although the argument was legally correct, recourse to an unjust law was morally wrong.

Further, CHI officials corrected erroneous information about sanctions against Jeremy Stodghill. Catholic Health Initiatives and St. Thomas More Hospital did not file a lien or pursue a claim in bankruptcy court against Jeremy Stodghill. One of the physician co-defendants, who is not an employee of Catholic Health Initiatives or St. Thomas More Hospital, did pursue garnishment. Mr. Stodghill filed bankruptcy to stop the garnishment.

Under Colorado law, St. Thomas More Hospital was entitled to recover actual costs incurred in the case, including such expenses as deposition charges and payments to expert witnesses. St. Thomas More Hospital and Catholic Health Initiatives were awarded approximately $47,000. Catholic Health Initiatives has never pursued a collection of those costs.

CHI pledged its firm commitment, as always, to the best interests of patients and its adherence to the moral obligations of the Church, which were not strictly followed in this case by attorneys for the hospital.

Statement from Catholic Bishops

Feb. 4, 2013

Each human life is a sacred gift, created as a unique and unrepeatable expression of God's love. Life is given by God, and the right to life is a fundamental good, without which no other rights can be enjoyed. Because life is endowed with dignity from the moment of conception to the time of natural death, just societies should create laws that comprehensively protect it.

In 2006, Lori Stodghill, who was pregnant with twin sons, tragically died at St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City, Colorado after Lori suffered a pulmonary embolism. After their deaths, the Stodghill family took legal action against the doctors involved, and St. Thomas More, which is sponsored by Catholic Health Initiatives, an institution of the Catholic Church. The lawsuit alleged that the hospital failed to sufficiently try to save Ms. Stodghill and her children.

Attorneys for St. Thomas More argued that the hospital provided the best possible medical care to Lori Stodghill and her sons, and that there was no possibility of saving their lives. Two courts affirmed that argument.

Evidence indicates that St. Thomas More Hospital undertook all possible efforts to save Lori Stodghill. Medical experts testified to that effect. They also testified that the Stodghill children tragically died before medical care commenced, so an emergency C-section would not have saved them. We have every reason to believe that St. Thomas More Hospital provided excellent and conscientious medical care in this case.

Attorneys for St. Thomas More Hospital argued that because unborn children are not defined as persons under Colorado's Wrongful Death Act, the law did not permit this lawsuit. We became aware of this tragic situation on Thursday, January 24, 2013. We at once contacted the leadership of CHI for clarification.

CHI was unaware that legal counsel for St. Thomas More had aligned itself with an argument based upon an unjust law. CHI officials have assured us that they believed it was "morally wrong" to make recourse to an unjust law. They have also assured us that they will no longer utilize this unjust law if the case is heard before additional courts.

CHI joins us in our commitment to work for comprehensive change in Colorado's law, so that the unborn may enjoy the same legal protections as all other persons.

We 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. All Catholic persons and institutions, indeed all men and women of good will, share the solemn responsibility to support efforts aimed at establishing legal protection for the unborn.

Finally, we join Catholic Health Initiatives in expressing solidarity for the Stodghill family. The loss they have experienced is unimaginable. They have offered to stand with the Stodghills, and to support them in their suffering. We commend that commitment, and offer our own prayers and support to the Stodghill family.

Catholic healthcare institutions are, and should, be held to the high standard of Jesus Christ himself, who is our divine and eternal healer. We pray that the good work of Catholic hospitals in America may continue to provide healing, support, and witness to the essential dignity of all human life.

Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop of Denver

Most Reverend Michael Sheridan
Bishop of Colorado Springs

Most Reverend Fernando Isern
Bishop of Pueblo

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Fetuses aren't people, says Catholic hospital: Does argument contradict church doctrine?"

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Morality and the Catholic Church in the same sentence ... ROTFLMAO !!


Say what it takes to win, say what it takes to position for the next round, say what it takes to make it go away, ....in a just society, Bishop's would not sound like lawyers.  

Do the words of the Bishops seem sincere to anyone?  

The Catholic Church and the Bishops can never even begin to understand our lives,  our world, and the damage they do, when they exist, operate and preach in the moral vacuum between word and deed. 

BackOffImStarving topcommenter

Morally-wrong like taking more than two lollipops from the bank teller, or morally-wrong like covering up years and years of sexual abuse committed by the clergy?

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@slcutah ... there is a reason why Jesuit became a synonym for Liar in the English language.


@BackOffImStarving@DonkeyHotay  Looks like the nuns, the religious orders that sponsor CHI, the Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity were familiar names to those who suffered in the Magdalene Laundries. 

....For their perceived sins, they were forced to perform unpaid labor for the commercial benefit of four Irish orders of nuns. 

Abuse by Church and State: The Hidden Story of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries


@BackOffImStarving@DonkeyHotay     Thanks for the link. wow. The Jesuits, Colorado Bishops and CHI appear to be mere pikers compared to Catholic nuns...?  There are headlines around the world.....
UN panel urges Ireland to probe Catholic torture

Human rights groups say young women were abused after being sent to the so-called Magdalene Laundries.
and yesterday, Mon Feb 4, 2013: Report says government was directly involved in sending girls and woman to work in slave-like conditions in laundries run by Catholic orders.(nuns)....

Maybe the Bishops do know what they are doing. Thanks to the Catholic Church's continuing history of institutionalized "charity", there are opportunities for the Stoghill's to work off legal and court costs the Catholic Health System sought and won here in Colorado. 

Thanks for the info BackoffImStarving....but it makes my heart hurt realizing  this situation and that the Bishop's response was not rock bottom...just another day for those who wear the pointy hats...

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