A Colorado Catholic hospital defended itself against a wrongful death suit by claiming that the hospital failed to perform an emergency c-section to save the lives of twin fetuses in court by arguing that fetuses are not people.

In 2006, Lori Stodghill was seven months pregnant with twins when she arrived at St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colorado, with what was later determined to be a heart attack. Emergency Room staff were unable to resuscitate Lori, and the obstetrician on call, who was also her primary obstetrician, did not answer their pages. The twin fetuses died in the womb. Jeremy Stoghill, Lori’s husband, filed a wrongful death suit arguing the while a c-section might not have saved Lori, it could have saved the twin fetuses.

Catholic Health Initiatives, which manages the St. Thomas More Hospital, filed a brief that “Under Colorado law, a fetus is not a ‘person’ and plaintiff’s claims for wrongful death must therefore be dismissed.” The defense attorney for Catholic Health Initiatives Jason Langely, wrote in the brief that the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”

The Catholic Church is currently investigating whether the brief filed on behalf of Catholic Health Initiatives violates Catholic Doctrine. The Catholic Bishops of Colorado released a statement saying “Catholics and Catholic institutions have the duty to protect and foster human life, and to witness to the dignity of the human person – particularly to the dignity of the unborn. No Catholic institution may legitimately work to undermine fundamental human dignity. … The Catholic bishops of Colorado are not able to comment on ongoing legal disputes. However, we will undertake a full review of this litigation, and of the policies and practices of Catholic Health Initiatives to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Media Resources: Huffington Post 1/25/2013; USA Today 1/24/2013; Raw Story 1/24/2013; Colorado Independent 1/23/2013

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