Fetuses not people, Catholic hospital argues in fetal death lawsuit
BY BOB SMIETANA The Tennessean
Friday, January 25, 2013
1/25/13 at 5:18 AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A Catholic hospital in Colorado has argued in court documents that it is not liable for the deaths of two fetuses because those fetuses are not people.
So far, courts have sided with the hospital.
But that defense contradicts church teaching that human life is sacred from the moment of conception.
At least one prominent abortion foe called the hospital's claims morally untenable.
The issue of whether a fetus is a person was raised in a lawsuit filed by Jeremy Stodghill, whose 31-year-old wife, Lori Stodghill, died in 2006 at St. Thomas More hospital in Canon City, Colo.
Lori Stodghill was 7 months' pregnant with twins at the time. The lawsuit claims that the hospital failed to perform an emergency C-section to save the fetuses.
According to published reports, a brief filed by the hospital, owned by Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives, said the fetuses are not covered by state's Wrongful Death Act.
"Under Colorado law, a fetus is not a 'person' and plaintiff's claims for wrongful death must therefore be dismissed," the hospital argued.
A state district court and an appeals court agreed with the hospital.
The case, originally filed in 2007, is on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said the hospital failed to live up to its pro-life principles.
"There's a difference between being legal and being right," Land said. "Either a fetus is a person or it's not."
Catholic Heath Initiatives, which runs 78 hospitals in 14 states, would not comment on the specifics on the lawsuit.
But the organization said in a statement that it follows Catholic teaching.
"First and foremost, our heartfelt sympathies have always been with the Stodghill family as a result of these tragic circumstances," the statement said.
"In this case, St. Thomas More, Centura Health and Catholic Health Initiatives, as Catholic organizations, are in union with the moral teachings of the Church."
The three Catholic bishops in Colorado said Thursday that they'd recently learned of the death of Lori Stodghill and the twins and expressed their condolences.
The bishops said they could not comment on ongoing legal disputes.
But they said they will review the litigation and policies of Catholic Health Initiatives to ensure they conform with Catholic teaching.
News about the suit comes at an awkward time for Catholic leaders who oppose abortion.
Catholic dioceses in Tennessee, New York, and Pennsylvania are also suing the federal government over the contraceptive mandate for employers.
Those Catholic groups say the mandate violates their religious beliefs about the sanctity of life.
Original Print Headline: Catholic hospital: Fetuses are not people