What wins when money clashes with religious doctrine?

That is, of course, a question that practically answers itself. Via reader Vote for Pedro I learned about a court case arising from a tragic situation in 2006 when a woman who was seven months pregnant with twins started vomiting and was short of breath and was admitted to the emergency room of a Colorado hospital run by the Catholic church. The obstetrician on call did not answer his page and the woman died within the hour and the twins did not survive either.

Her husband sued Catholic Health Initiatives, the non-profit that runs the hospital and 170 other hospitals around the country, for negligence saying that if the doctor had come or at least instructed the frantic emergency room staff to do a Caesarean, it may not have saved the mother but could have saved the twins.

But the defense attorneys for CHI made a surprising argument that contradicted their client’s long-standing Catholic doctrine that life begins at conception and that fetuses should be considered persons, and is the basis for all the ‘personhood’ initiatives being promoted nationwide by anti-choice advocates.

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. [My italics-MS]

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.”

So the Catholic church, in order to avoid liability in this case, is now arguing that the term ‘person’ only applies to those born alive. CHI has won its case so in the lower courts and the matter is now up for possible consideration before the Colorado Supreme Court.


  1. says

    That does seem like a rather unfortunate doctrinal self-checkmate for the catholics.

    I feel badly for the woman, though. What a horrible pointless death.

  2. crowepps says

    I’d like to know if the incompetent doctor who ignored the pages requesting him to show up and do his job still has his license.

  3. Jockaira says

    This isn’t about Church doctrine, it’s about Civil law. CHI has the legal right to use all legal tactics to avoid legal liability, and it’s not unusual for a lawyer to defend a client by using an argument contrary to the client’s wishes or beliefs. But if CHI skates on this then they owe a public apology for hypocritical use of the law to avoid their divine responsibilities. Speaking of which, it offends my sensibilities that the husband seems to have relegated his wife to the condition of a “walking incubator” apparently being more concerned about the potential life of his twin fetuses than of the actual life of his wife.
    The husand and CHI deserve each other.

  4. Mano Singham says

    I don’t think that anyone was saying that what CHI’s lawyers did was not legal. But clients can insist that their lawyers not pursue certain lines of reasoning and threaten to change lawyers otherwise. The issue here is that CHI seemed willing to go along with this.

  5. Jockaira says


    If YOU are being sued for what would likely be megabucks, would you follow your lawyer’s advice?

    …Or tell him how to do HIS job?

  6. Mano Singham says

    But one cannot compare an individual making a tactical decision in a legal crunch with what the Catholic church is doing here. The church says that it is their god‘s commandment that we must treat any fertilized egg as if it were a human being, but as soon as their bank account is threatened they are willing to go against what they say is god’s will.

    If your point is that the church thinks of itself just like it was any ordinary fallible human and not the vehicle through which their god acts, then I agree with you.

  7. Jockaira says

    Money is a great leveler. The threat of losing a large amount of it is a rude confrontation with physical reality. Money is a great leveler. The threat of losing a large amount of it is a rude confrontation with physical reality. Anything that forces the church into the cold realm of reality is good especially when adherents see the hypocrisies underlying all that difficult-to-maintain dogma. It sorta reveals the essentially error-prone human nature of the stiff-necked guardians of morality who have delegated themselves the divine diplomats of the Deity.
    In a case like this, the church is threatened with a severe loss of temporal power, the husband has lost his wife and two potential children, the wife and two fetuses have lost existence (being consigned to a boring eternity basking in the baleful bliss of Divine Company, or worse if they don’t have their confession papers in order). God is the biggest loser here, showing that even He pales before the mighty presence of a lean and hungry crew of lawyers billing by the hour.
    Ain’t Reality Grand?

  8. Vote for Pedro says

    Good grief: check the awful story on this Catholic saint. TL;DR: herself a physician, told it would be dangerous to get pregnant again, she did anyway, and insisted “If you must choose between me and the baby, no hesitation; choose – and I demand it – the baby. Save her!” Sigh.

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