Colo. Bishops to Review Catholic Hospital That Argued Fetuses Are Not People

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that it will be reviewing a wrongful-death lawsuit in which hospital network Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) successfully argued that fetuses are not people.

Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan and Pueblo Bishop Fernando Isern of the Colorado Conference released a joint statement expressing their deepest condolences to Jeremy Stodghill, the man who lost his wife and unborn twin boys at St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colo., on New Year's Day 2006.

The bishops added that they would be reviewing the lawsuit that CHI, the network that St. Thomas More belongs to, defeated the Stodghill by arguing that fetuses, the twins, are not people, which contradicts official Roman Catholic doctrine.

"From the moment of conception, human beings are endowed with dignity and with fundamental rights, the most foundational of which is life," the bishop's statement reads. "No Catholic institution may legitimately work to undermine fundamental human dignity."

Stodghill filed the wrongful death lawsuit in District Court in Fremont County, arguing that Emergency Respondent staff failed to detect any fetal heartbeats after his seven-month pregnant wife, Lori, suffered a fatal heart-attack at St. Thomas More. The doctors on the scene declined to perform a perimortem Cesarean section on the dead woman, which the lawsuit argues could have potentially saved the unborn children.

CHI's lawyer, Jason Langley, argued before the Fremont County District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals: "[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." CHI successfully had the lawsuit dismissed earlier this week.

While many Catholics have noted CHI's contradiction of Roman Catholic doctrine, the Catholic Church has fought for decades to strengthen laws in the U.S. in defense of unborn life.

"Catholic Health Initiatives has been accused by some of undermining the Catholic position on human life in the course of litigation," the bishops' statement concludes.

The Colorado bishops noted that their review would take a look at the policies and practices of Catholic Health Initiatives in order to "ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church."