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In defending wrongful-death claim, Catholic hospital says fetuses aren’t people

Greg Campbell
Contributor

A Catholic hospital in Cañon City, Colo., has argued that fetuses aren’t people in defending a wrongful-death lawsuit, according to an article in the Colorado Independent.

The lawsuit stems from the death of Lori Stodghill, a 31-year-old woman who died from a blood clot. She was pregnant with twins, who could not be saved.

Her husband, Jeremy Stodghill, sued St. Thomas More hospital because the on-call obstetrician didn’t answer a page. Jeremy Stodghill’s lawyers argued that his wife and unborn children might have been saved had the doctor responded, according to the Independent.

The hospital’s legal argument that the Stodghill’s unborn children were not people contradicts Catholic beliefs.

It’s also counter to church directives for Catholic health care facilities issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directive reads, quoting Pope John Paul II’s 1983 address to the World Medical Association.  “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”

St. Thomas More is part of the Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives, which runs 78 other hospitals in 17 states.

But the hospital’s legal strategy is based on state law, not ecumenical directives.

Hospital lawyers argued that 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.”

The hospital has won this argument in lower courts. Stodghill has appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

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