Catholic Hospital Argues Fetuses Are Not People in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A Catholic hospital has successfully defended itself against a wrongful death lawsuit by claiming that a fetus is not the same as a person, which critics have said goes against Roman Catholic Church doctrine.

The long-standing case began in 2006 with the death of a seven-months pregnant woman, who was brought into St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colo., on New Year's Day because she was vomiting and had shortness of breath, The Colorado Independent reported. Within the hour, 31-year-old Lori Stodghill was dead, having suffered a massive heart attack.

Her husband, Jeremy Stodghill, who drove her to the hospital, argued that the on-call obstetrician who was supposed to assist his wife, never arrived at the hospital.

The Emergency Respondent staff failed to detect any fetal heartbeats, and the doctors on the scene declined to perform a perimortem Cesarean section on the dead woman, that could have potentially saved her twins' lives.

The Denver Westword shares a detailed account of how the events of the day transpired.

"He said, 'Well, what do you want to do? Take the babies? Take the babies?'" Stodghill shared of the phone conversation he had with the obstetrician, who never showed up at the hospital. "I kept responding, 'I'm not a doctor!'

Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), the network of hospitals which St. Thomas More belongs to, operates 78 hospitals in 17 different states. Stodghill filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the faith-based organization, insisting that the C-section could have saved his children's lives.

CHI says that its employees follow the official decree of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, which states that "the Church's defense of life encompasses the unborn." The nonprofit apparently decided to go against that belief by arguing that the dead twins were not people.

"[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," argued CHI's lawyer, Jason Langley.

Langley was successful in convincing both the Fremont County District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals to dismiss Stodghill's lawsuit in the case.

Stodghill and his attorneys have said, however, that they are not giving up on the case and are hoping to have it heard before the Colorado Supreme Court.