Catholic Hospital: Fetuses Are People — Unless It Costs Us Money


I’m sure you’ve seen this story by now. About 10 people sent it to me, knowing it right in my wheelhouse. A Catholic hospital in Colorado is arguing that a fetus is not a person in a wrongful death lawsuit. My former AINN colleague John Tomasic has the story.

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. Staples should have made it to the hospital, his lawyers argued, or at least instructed the frantic emergency room staff to perform a caesarian-section. The procedure likely would not have saved the mother, a testifying expert said, but it may have saved the twins…

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.”

Here’s the thing: They’re probably going to win on that basis in court because that is, in fact, what the law says. But we should definitely take note of the fact that the church, unsurprisingly, conveniently changes positions when it’s necessary to save them money. In the fight between money and principle, money just won by a knockout in the first round.

Comments

  1. Didaktylos says

    … money just won by a knockout in the first round.

    No – Money arranged to have Principle DQ’d at the weigh-in on the grounds that Principle couldn’t make the weight.

  2. slc1 says

    I’m sure that the blogs current resident troll, Jonathan Gray, will be along to defend the position of the Raping Children Church.

  3. says

    @slc1:
    I’m sure that the blogs current resident troll, Jonathan Gray

    Maybe you should look in the mirror before you call anyone “resident troll,” Mr 15 megatons.

  4. slc1 says

    Re Marcus Ranum

    Maybe Mr. Ranum should look in the mirror before he calls anyone a resident troll, Mr. CIA is behind the uprising in Syria.

  5. eric says

    they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

    While the hospital claiming they are persons would make the suit much, much stronger, the bottom line is that the on-call doctor did not show up, and consequently a pregnant woman and her foetuses died. I’d be surprised if the husband had a hard time getting a jury award from this. “Wy wife and her two unborn non-people died, at least partially attributable to his negligence” seems, IMO, still a pretty strong case to me.

  6. says

    I wonder if the ranchers down there around Canon City are awarded damages for both cow and calf if someone kills one of their pregnant animals in an auto or hunting accident.

    In some way I see the logic of the Hospital’s liyars. The KKKristianists are well known for their fondness of teh babeez when they aren’t yet teh babeez. Once you leave the womb, you’re on your own.

  7. says

    But we should definitely take note of the fact that the church, unsurprisingly, conveniently changes positions when it’s necessary to save them money.

    Well, technically, the administration of a particular Catholic hospital isn’t “the church”. But I’ll be very curious to see if there’s any comment from the bishops and such about this…

  8. slc1 says

    Re Eric @ #5

    I don’t know if a favorable verdict would stand up under appeal. The best he can hope for is that the physicians insurance company will offer a settlement to make the plaintiff go away.

  9. slc1 says

    Of course, this position by the hospital does provide ammunition when a priest testifies before a legislative body or goes on television to claim that life begins at conception.

  10. freemage says

    Eric@5: Actually, the mother’s death has been pretty much considered by every medical team that looked at the case to have been unavoidable. Only the death of the twins is at issue, here; because the paged doctor didn’t respond, no order was given to begin a c-section immediately. This COULD have resulted in a successful birth, though the mother still would have died either way.

    So for a wrongful-death suit, you need to claim that someone ~wrongfully~ died. Mom was dead on arrival, even if her body hadn’t shut down yet; if the fetuses aren’t ‘persons’ under the law, then they don’t count, either, so no wrongful death.

  11. Owlmirror says

    I’ll interrupt the trollier-than-thou argument to make a prediction: jonathangray will not defend the Catholic legal argument, but will instead condemn it. He’s condemned the Church on much more minor matters.

    Of course, he’s also stated that in the perfect Catholic-ruled world, women who procure abortions should be killed, as should doctors who provide them, and that he doesn’t care what science says about embryological development.

    He doesn’t actually like babies, though. If babies are killed as part of pogroms and other religious massacres, well, that’s just too bad. Because killing for God is just the most awesome and wonderful thing ever.

  12. slc1 says

    Re Owlmirror @ #12

    I assume that fuckface Gray has made these assertions on his blog as I don’t recall him making them as a commenter on Freethloughtblogs. I am not surprised by this, coming from someone who considers Francisco Franco as his hero.

  13. raven says

    I’m sure that the blogs current resident troll, Jonathan Gray,

    Probably.

    JG is a banned troll, once known as Piltdown man.

    A Catholic uber-supremacist who wants to bring back the good old Dark Ages. He never makes sense and is only good for minor entertainment value on a slow day. He once threatened to become a Catholic priest. I doubt if even they would take him.

  14. slc1 says

    Re raven @ #14

    I haven’t seen a comment from Mr. Brayton stating that this asshole is banned. He had comments posted as recently as this morning. However he was given the heave ho over at Greta Christina’s blog.

  15. eric says

    @11: okay, thanks.

    But couldn’t he sue for pain and suffering etc. related to the twins death without claiming they are people? He could presumably sue the hospital for killing his dog or losing his luggage, so the fact that these are not legally persons should not be a barrier to a suit, should it?

    Maybe this is a legal screw-up by his lawyer. I.e., maybe the lawyer didn’t argue anythnig but wrongful death. However, if his lawyer didn’t limit his/her argument to wrongful death, I don’t see how the suit could be dismissed out of hand.

  16. cottonnero says

    All I have to add is that the obstetrician’s name, “Dr. Pelham Staples”, is awesome. Very General-Hospital-by-way-of-Charles-Dickens.

  17. raven says

    I haven’t seen a comment from Mr. Brayton stating that this asshole is banned.

    He apparently isn’t banned everywhere. Yet.

    He was banned under several aliases on Pharyngula.

  18. says

    JG is a banned troll, once known as Piltdown man.

    also occasionally trolling my somewhat neglected blog as “alex”. and yeah, I’m pretty sure pilty is only banned at pharyngula, since his dungeon-status got transferred during the move from sciblogs

  19. caseloweraz says

    In a related article, the Colorado Independent reports on Jeremy Stodghill’s reaction to the appeal. It writes, in part:

    In the wake of news that Catholic Health has been shielding itself for years with a legal strategy that contravenes Church teachings, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan and Pueblo Bishop Fernando Isern vowed this week to review the arguments in the case to see if Catholic Health has been acting with “fidelity and faithful witness” to Church doctrine.

    BTW: The Colorado Independent has a very interesting blogroll.

  20. martinc says

    As caseloweraz touches on, their legal position may oppose Catholic doctrine, but they can still hold both those positions. They could simply argue “we think the law is wrong, but it IS the law, and as long as it is in place, we are just as entitled to its protections as those who agree with the law.”

    To argue otherwise reminds me of those people who say atheists should have to go to work on religious-based public holidays like Easter or Xmas.

  21. awpti says

    This doesn’t even mention the worst part of it!

    Since he lost the suit, he has to pay the lawyers bills of the hospital and his wages were garnished. So, he has gone from a husband and soon-to-be father to a Widowerw with dead kids and garnished wages.

    That’s just messed up. He should have sued them for the death of his wife — malpractice (or whatever this would fall under). The hospital entirely failed in its duty.

Leave a Reply