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Bizarre: Catholic Hospital Argues That 7-Month-Old Fetuses Aren't 'Persons' in Wrongful-Death Legal Battle


"The term 'person,' as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive."

Photo Credit: AP

A Catholic hospital in Cañon City, Colo., is facing intense scrutiny for arguing that fetuses aren't people in the midst of defending itself against a malpractice claim, according to The Colorado Independent. Naturally, this opinion is pointedly bizarre considering the Catholic Church's intense pro-life stance -- one that argues that life begins at the moment of conception. The legal battle between the family of Lori Stodghill, a woman who died at the hospital back in 2006, and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), an organization that owns St. Thomas More hospital, led to what can only be described as a curious and troubling defense.

The 31-year-old woman was pregnant with twins on New Year's Day in 2006 when she sought urgent medical assistance. When she arrived at the hospital, Stodghill was vomiting and short of breath, sustaining a clogged artery and a massive heart attack. While medical practitioners attempted to resuscitate her, they were unsuccessful and the doctor on call purportedly never answered a page seeking medical assistance. The twins  died after Stodghill passed away -- just one hour after arriving at St. Thomas More.

Photo Credit: AP

The woman's husband, Jeremy, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in the wake of the incident, claiming that the doctor on call should have responded. Had there been additional medical coordination, he believes his unborn children might have been saved. While an expert testified that the mother's life likely couldn't have been spared, had the doctor been on hand and ordered a cesarean section, the individual agreed that the twins might still be alive today.

The Colorado Independent explains more details about the CHI and the curious defense that the organization has given against Jeremy's claims (emphasis added):

The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.” [...]

But when it came to mounting a defense in the Stodghill case, Catholic Health’s lawyers effectively turned the Church directives on their head. Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

According to the Independent, Jason Langley, a lawyer representing the defense, argued in a brief that the court that the case should consider that "the term 'person,' as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive" (emphasis added). The brief goes on to say that Colorado law recognizes a "person" as someone who has been "born alive" and that the family's claim cannot possibly stand, because the wrongful death lawsuit is "based on two unborn fetuses."  

So far, Jeremy has not had much luck avenging his wife's death, as judgements have gone in favor of CHI. Lawyers for the family have appealed to the state's Supreme Court, where they hope to, again, have the case heard. The court is slated to decide whether to hear the legal battle in the next few weeks. Regardless of what happens, CHI's lawyers utilizing the "fetus" argument appears extremely contradictory, specifically when considering the Catholic Church's powerful and prevalent pro-life stance.

(H/T: The Daily Caller)

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