Catholic Hospital Says It Was 'Morally Wrong' To Argue That a Fetus Is Not a Person

February 6, 2013 — A Catholic hospital in Colorado in a statement acknowledged that "it was morally wrong" for its attorneys to argue in court documents that the facility is not liable for the deaths of two seven-month-old fetuses because fetuses are not people, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The hospital said the argument "directly contradicts the moral teachings of the Church" (Riccardi, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/4).

The statement addresses a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jeremy Stodghill after his wife died in 2006 at St. Thomas More Hospital. Lori Stodghill was seven months pregnant with twins and had arrived at the hospital vomiting and short of breath. Medical personnel were unable to resuscitate her, and Lori Stodghill died from a massive heart attack caused by a clogged artery. Lori Stodghill's obstetrician, Pelham Staples, was on call for emergencies that night but did not answer a page. The lawsuit argues that had Staples been present, he could have instructed staff to perform an emergency caesarian section, which would have saved the lives of the fetuses, but likely not the life of Lori Stodghill.

Lawyers for Catholic Health Initiatives -- which operates St. Thomas More Hospital and about 170 other health facilities in 17 states -- have argued that Colorado's Wrongful Death Act has been interpreted to apply only to persons born alive and, therefore, protects doctors from liability in cases concerning viable fetuses. A brief filed by the hospital said, "Under Colorado law, a fetus is not a 'person' and plaintiff's claims for wrongful death must therefore be dismissed" (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/25).

In joint statements, CHI and Catholic bishops in Colorado said they were "unaware" of the legal arguments used in the case.

Even though the legal argument that a fetus is not a human being was used to get the case dismissed, CHI and the bishops noted that an appellate court determined that medical error was not the cause of the fetuses' deaths.

Jeremy Stodghill is asking the state Supreme Court to hear the case (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/4).