Not persons after all?


Oh how interesting. Catholic hospitals don’t always say that a fetus is a person. For instance, how about when an on-call obstetrician doesn’t answer the page when a pregnant woman is in the ER having a heart attack and she ends up dying? And then her husband files a wrongful death suit?

No, not then.

The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, 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.

You know, the Ethical and Religious Directives that say St Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix did a wicked wicked thing by terminating a pregnancy to save the woman’s life. Those Ethical and Religious Directives.

…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.”

Innnnnnteresting.

To be fair, maybe Catholic Health isn’t being hypocritical; maybe Catholic Health, like the administration of St Joseph’s Hospital, refuses to obey the bishops on this issue.

Who knows. There shouldn’t be any ambiguity on the subject either way. The Ethical and Religious Directives should be a dead letter.

Comments

  1. says

    Isn’t this just like the Catholic Church? They really do disgust me. They’ll do anything, contravene any value, just to keep themselves out of trouble, but they won’t lift a finger when the shoe is on the other foot. Hypocrites. Of course, we should have known that. Religions are in business for themselves, and they will use anything so long as it is to their advantage. Obviously, they think unbending values that endanger the lives of women will attract people. People like to be bossed around and made to feel justified. But if they can slip away through the very same grate the use to filter out the unfaithful, they don’t mind slithering on their bellies like snakes. It does really make one a bit sick. They should acknowledge their fault up front. That’s what Jesus would have done (at least that’s the way the story goes).

  2. says

    Eric – heh – well I really don’t know. Catholic Healthcare West did – with the greatest politeness – stand up to the bishop of Phoenix and say No. We do know that by no means all Catholics agree with the bishops.

    But of course nobody can be confident of knowing which is which, so the stinking ERD is still horribly dangerous and the laxity of the Feds in allowing churches to dictate policy is terrifying.

  3. steve oberski says

    If Catholic Healthcare West has passed this on to their insurers then they have no control over how this is argued.

    Completely up to the insurance company.

    Of course a truly principled organization would not have let the possibility of a huge financial penalty get in the way of their core beliefs, would they ?

    I mean that’s the way they act when it’s only a woman’s life at risk. Nothing will get in the way of their dogma then. No siree, Bob!

  4. says

    Even if it’s the case that this is just the hospital or their insurance people making this legal argument shouldn’t the bishop make a big stink over it? If the doctors go a head a do something they don’t like (an abortion to save a mother for example) they make a huge stink. So why don’t they bring in the legal department and give them a good talking to about the ethics of their argument? I don’t think they have much wiggle room on this the bishop either stays silent and tacitly permits this or stands up and speaks their (supposed) values making a big legal mess. There’s no easy way out.

  5. says

    Eric – heh – well I really don’t know. Catholic Healthcare West did – with the greatest politeness – stand up to the bishop of Phoenix and say No. We do know that by no means all Catholics agree with the bishops.

    One thing is that I really, really, really don’t want to find out about the local catholic healthcare provider’s position when I’m there dying.
    But this should be malpractice one way or another, because you should fucking always call an OB/Gyn when a pregnant woman presents with a serious condition.

  6. Jeff D says

    Catholic Health Initiatives probably has more of a voice in what the insurer-hired defense lawyers say, and what defenses they use, than follks might imagine at first blush. The larger the organization (here, the hospital chain), the larger the “deductible” amount under their malpractice policies — the first-dollars part of any one liability that the organization pays out of its own pocket. The hospital chain self-insures for that amount and pays that portion of the judgment or settlement out of its own pocket. Here, Catholic Health Initiaties has some skin in the game, and that means that it has some influence over the arguments that the defense lawyers make. To be fair, in this instance, if the CEO of the hospital chain or its Vice President for Risk Management were to phone or e-mail the insurance adjuster and the law firm and ask that the “unborn fetuses are not persons under the criminal law” NOT be used, the insurance company would tell the hospital lawyer to butt out. After the damages exposure in a case exceeds the self-insured limit of the hospital, such details in the defense of a case are normally under the control of the insurer and the lawyers, even though the hospital exerts a lot of control over whether to settle and for how much.

    Secondly, the larger the hospital chain, the more likely it is that it owns one or more “captive” insurance companies — sometimes organized offshore in places like Bermuda, sometimes in states such as Vermont that are or used to be friendly to captive insurance companies in a reguatory sense. I know this because more than a decade ago, I did general corporate legal work for a huge Catholic hospital chain, which did have a captive insurance company that wrote its malpractice coverage.

    The hospital, its malpractice insurer, and the defense lawyers have the absolute right, under our secular legal system, to plead and to use defenses based on state law, such as the definition of “person” under Colorado criminal law. But the hypocrisy is plain, given the hospital chain’s statement that its hospitals “seek to follow” the ERDs.

  7. says

    @Giliell #6 – “One thing is that I really, really, really don’t want to find out about the local catholic healthcare provider’s position when I’m there dying.”

    The hospital where my doctor is registered was recently bought out by Providence, one of the larger Catholic hospital brands. In preparation, the hospital spun off its OB-GYN clinic, which provides abortions among many other services. I switched doctors to one that is registered with a secular hospital.

    As a gay, atheist, HIV+ person, I do not dare end up under the “tender mercies” of the Catholic Church.

  8. says

    If Catholic Healthcare West has passed this on to their insurers then they have no control over how this is argued.

    Completely up to the insurance company.

    But if an insurance company wants to provide their employees with contraception? Completely up to them.

  9. steve oberski says

    @Jeff D

    The hospital, its malpractice insurer, and the defense lawyers have the absolute right, under our secular legal system, to plead and to use defenses based on state law, such as the definition of “person” under Colorado criminal law. But the hypocrisy is plain, given the hospital chain’s statement that its hospitals “seek to follow” the ERDs.

    I agree completely.

    It’s is precisely this sort of schizophrenic behaviour by the rcc that is exposing their rotten core to public scrutiny.

    Makes no difference to the small (and getting smaller) group of deluded sheep that swallow (sometimes literally) any and all pronouncements promulgated by these evil old men but it does have the effect of increasingly marginalizing the rcc, hopefully to the point where there will be some significant pushback against their involvement in what are strictly secular matters such as health care, education, child care and other public policy issues such as equal treatment under the law for women and homosexuals.

    I grieve for the actual flesh and blood human beings that have to pay the price as part of the process of exposing the evil of this organization.

  10. Thorne says

    One niggling doubt, here. By arguing that they are simply following Colorado law, aren’t they also saying, “Just change the law and NEXT time we’ll pay up!”? In other words, the state declares the fetus to be a non-person, allowing abortions, so they can’t claim that in this case it IS a person.

    Yeah, the hypocrisy is rife, here, but legally, their argument is sound. Morally? Not so much. One thing I learned as a Catholic was that the church was very strong on legal issues. As long as they benefit the church.

  11. freemage says

    I’ve been trying to spread word of this little tale, so was glad to see it here.

    That said, I think it’s important to note that the ruling the lawyer is asking for, and which the courts have been granting, is the right one–under the law, the fetus is not a ‘person’, and thus does not qualify for wrongful death judgements. This makes the case fairly sticky, because just about everyone has agreed that nothing the hospital could have done, even if the OB/Gyn had answered his page, would’ve saved the mother–it’s JUST about whether or not they could’ve saved the unborn twins with a C-Section. (In this, it’s almost a perfect mirror of the case in Ireland.)

    Because of this, unfortunately, the hospital is protected from the consequences of their rather gross negligence.

    (Note: Personally, I feel that the ‘personhood’ debate is a side-track; even if the fetus IS counted as a legal person, no legal person has a right to the biological resources of another legal person–and they haven’t managed to strip women of that status, so the fetus has no right to claim the blood, tissue and other elements that are siphoned off during pregnancy, nor to force the mother to submit to a risk of bodily harm, as Ashley Miller’s recent piece does a wonderful job of describing. So if I could be confident that the courts would rule the right way, then fetal personhood would actually put all the elements in the right place–but sadly, I can’t trust this SCOTUS to do the right thing.)

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