Bishops Will Review Catholic Hospital's Malpractice Defense
Colorado's three Catholic bishops Thursday evening said they will make a full review of a lawsuit in which a Catholic hospital defending against malpractice has argued that fetuses aren't persons.
Jeremy Stodghill filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in District Court in Fremont County after his 31-year-old wife, Lori, seven months pregnant with twin boys, died of a blockage of the main artery of the lung at St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City on New Year's Day 2006.
Stodghill's lawyer argued that her obstetrician, Pelham Staples, never made it to the hospital — even though on call for emergencies — and there was no attempt by any medical personnel to save the Stodghills' sons by cesarian section.The unborn children died in the womb.
The lead defendant is Englewood-based Catholic Health Initiatives, which runs St. Thomas More and hospitals in 14 states.
The Catholic Church has fought for decades to change federal and state laws to protect fetuses as persons. Yet, according to court documents, Catholic Health Initiatives argued in this case that the Colorado Wrongful Death Act requires the death of a person and the statute doesn't include the death of a fetus that wasn't born or delivered.
"The defendants argue that to be a 'person' one must at some point have been born alive," wrote District Judge David M. Thorson. "The plaintiffs, on the other hand, argue that a viable fetus who dies in utero should be considered a 'person' for purposes of the wrongful death statute."
In December 2010, the court found in favor of CHI and other defendants, as did the Court of Appeals. Stodghill's attorneys have appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan and Pueblo Bishop Fernando Isern wrote in a joint statement that representatives of CHI assured them Thursday "of their intention to observe the moral and ethical obligations of the Catholic Church."
The bishops, who said they only recently learned of the case and the deaths of Stodghill and her unborn children, would not otherwise comment on the ongoing legal dispute , but said they will undertake a full review of the litigation and of the CHI policies and practices.
"From the moment of conception human beings are endowed with dignity and with fundamental rights, the most foundational of which is life," the bishops said. "No Catholic institution may legitimately work to undermine fundamental human dignity."
The bishops said they extend "solidarity and sympathy" to Jeremy Stodghill and his daughter Elizabeth,who is also a plaintiff in the suit.