Catholic Hospital Argues Fetuses Aren't 'People'

By Smietana, Bob | The Christian Century, February 20, 2013 | Go to article overview

Catholic Hospital Argues Fetuses Aren't 'People'


Smietana, Bob, The Christian Century


A Catholic hospital in Colorado has argued in court documents that it is not liable for the deaths of twin seven-month-old fetuses because those fetuses are not people under state law. So far, courts have sided with the hospital. But the hospital's line of defense appears to contradict Catholic teaching that human life is sacred from the moment of conception.

The issue of whether a fetus is a person was raised in a lawsuit filed by Jeremy Stodghill, whose 31-year-old wife, Lori, died in 2006 at St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colorado.

Lori Stodghill was seven months pregnant with twins at the time. The suit claims that the hospital failed to perform an emergency cesarean section to save the fetuses.

According to published reports, a brief filed by the hospital, owned by Englewood, Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives, said that the fetuses are not covered by the 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 currently 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 of 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 January 24 that they'd recently learned of the death of Lori Stodghill and her two unborn children and expressed their condolences. …

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