After nationwide criticism, a Catholic hospital in Colorado has reversed course and will no longer argue in court in response to a lawsuit filed against it that an unborn child is not a person worthy of legal protection.
Attorneys for St Thomas More Hospital, which is sponsored by Catholic Health Initiatives, cited the statute in legal proceedings in the tragic case of Lori Stodghill and her twin unborn sons, who died at the Cañon City hospital on New Year’s Day of 2006. The law does not consider unborn children to be persons, which contradicts the moral teachings of the Church.
The Catholic bishops of Colorado — Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, and Bishop Fernando Isern of Pueblo — met last week to discuss the case with CHI senior leadership after announcing they would review the circumstances of the case.
CHI officials declared their firm commitment to one of the Church’s most basic moral teachings – that every person is created in the image and likeness of God and that life begins at the moment of conception. The CHI officials reiterated their deeply held belief that Colorado law fails to adequately protect the rights of the unborn, and expressed their commitment to work for laws that respect the rights of the unborn.
Kevin Lofton, CHI’s president and chief executive officer, and other senior executives, expressed their solidarity with Lori Stodghill’s husband, Jeremy, and the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth. The prayers of CHI have been with the Stodghill family throughout this long, heartbreaking ordeal.
The Colorado bishops recognized the exceptional care provided to Lori Stodghill at St. Thomas More Hospital. Two courts of law – the Circuit Court in Fremont County and the Colorado Court of Appeals – have supported the position of CHI and St. Thomas More Hospital that nothing done by doctors, nurses and other staff members would have changed this case’s tragic outcome.
The hospital, run by Catholic Healthcare Initiatives, argued that twin unborn children who died under its care were not human beings. The response came in regard to a wrongful death lawsuit filed against St. Thomas More Medical Center in Canon City by a husband who lost his pregnant wife.
CHI representatives agreed that the unjust law will not be cited in any further legal reviews of this case.
“Lori Stodghill was 28 weeks into her pregnancy when, on New Year’s Day 2006, she began vomiting and feeling short of breath, according to court papers. Her husband, Jeremy, took her to the emergency room of St. Thomas More, where Stodghill collapsed and went into cardiac arrest,” according to an AP report. “Doctors and nurses tried to revive her, but she was declared dead from a pulmonary embolism. No one tried to remove the fetuses via an emergency cesarean section, and they perished, too, court papers said.”
AP continued: “Jeremy Stodghill sued the hospital, some doctors and Catholic Healthcare Initiatives, which owns the company that operates Thomas More. Attorneys for CHI in 2010 filed court papers asking a judge to dismiss the case because the plaintiffs couldn’t prove negligent care killed Lori Stodghill and her fetuses. They also argued that “under Colorado law, a fetus is not a `person,’ and Plaintiff’s claims for wrongful death must therefore be dismissed.”
But today, the hospital and the state’s bishops released a statement acknowledging it was “morally wrong” to argue the unborn children were not people. Both released separate statements saying the hospital system had been unaware of the legal arguments and they pledged to “work for comprehensive change in Colorado’s law, so that the unborn may enjoy the same legal protections as other persons.”
Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan and Pueblo Bishop Fernando Isern said: “Catholic healthcare institutions are, and should, be held to the high standard of Jesus Christ himself.”
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“Colorado’s bishops have recognized the vital importance of CHI’s ministry of healing, and look forward to continued collaboration in working to overturn unjust laws and in service to the Gospel,” they said.
In the case a trial judge found that previous state court cases required an unborn child to be born alive to have the claim of any legal rights in the state. An appellate court upheld the dismissal and now Stodghill’s attorneys are hoping to take the case to the Colorado Supreme Court.
If the justices agree to hear the case, the Wrongful Death Act would not be considered on appeal. The argument now before the court rests solely on “causation”–that is, whether or not the medical personnel at St. Thomas More Hospital were negligent in caring for the the 31-yearold Lori Stodghill, who was 28 weeks pregnant with her twin unborn sons. The Circuit and Appellate courts have overwhelmingly concluded otherwise.