Catholic Hospital Argues ‘Fetus is Not a Person’ in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Canon City, Colorado — A Colorado man whose wife and unborn twins died while in the care of a local Catholic hospital is continuing his fight in the courts after the facility claimed in legal documents that it cannot be responsible for the deaths of his sons because a fetus is not a person.

On New Year’s Day 2006, 31-year-old Lori Stodghill went to St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City as she had been vomiting and was short of breath. She was 28 weeks (7 months) pregnant with twin boys at the time.

While waiting in the lobby of the hospital, Stodghill went into cardiac arrest and later died, leaving behind a two-year-old daughter. It was found that she had blockage in the main artery of her lung.

Following her death, Stodghill’s husband Jeremy filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and its owner, Catholic Health Initiatives of Englewood.

“I didn’t even get to hold them,” Stodghill lamented, referring to his twin sons. “I have an autopsy picture. That’s all I’ve got.”

However, Stodghill was shocked when attorneys for the healthcare group and the hospital argued that they should not be held liable for the deaths of the couple’s children because a fetus is not a person until it is born. It pointed to the Colorado Wrongful Death Act, which states that deaths involving unborn babies do not qualify under the statute.

In 2010, the court ruled in favor of Catholic Health Initiatives and St. Thomas More Hospital, determining that the entities could not be held liable for the babies’ deaths. Stodghill appealed.

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In turn, the hospital and doctors involved then sued Stodghill for $118,000 in legal fees and, according to reports, attempted to garnish his wages. They offered to drop their lawsuit if Stodghill would drop his appeal. He refused.

Instead, Stodghill decided to file for bankruptcy in order to avoid paying the fees, which he states he cannot afford as he is trying to raise the couple’s now 9-year-old daughter alone.

Recently, Stodghill filed an appeal in the Colorado Supreme Court and remains dismayed at how a Catholic organization can assert that a fetus is not a person.

“In this case … as Catholic organizations, [we] are in union with the moral teachings of the Church,” asserted Catholic Health Initiatives in a statement.

The Denver Post reports that Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan and Pueblo Bishop Fernando Isern also issued a statement advising that Catholic Health Initiatives has assured them “of their intention to observe the moral and ethical obligations of the Catholic Church.”

However, the Catholic bishops outlined that they would review the case and the hospital’s assertions.

“From the moment of conception, human beings are endowed with dignity and with fundamental rights, the most fundamental of which is life,” they said. “No Catholic institution may legitimately work to undermine fundamental human dignity.”

Catholic Health Initiatives had also been contacted by the pro-life effort Campaign to Stop Stericycle in 2011. The campaign advised the healthcare group that Stericycle, the nation’s leading medical waste disposal company, collects, transports and incinerates aborted babies and the items used in killing them, and urged the organization to find another provider. Carl Middleton, Vice President of Theology and Ethics for Catholic Health Initiatives, responded by contending that the hospitals under its care were not wrong in using a company that services Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities.

“Based on our moral analysis, we have concluded that our relationship with Stericycle is appropriate,” he wrote.

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