A major Catholic health provider has successfully dismantled a wrongful death lawsuit brought against it by arguing — in defiance of its own long-held doctrine — that a dead fetus is not the same as a dead person.
The case involves the 2006 death of 31-year-old Lori Stodghill, a woman seven months pregnant with twin boys, who was brought in to the emergency room at St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City, Colorado, on New Year's Day.
According to her husband Jeremy, Lori was vomiting and had shortness of breath — symptoms that would later be attributed to the clogged artery that caused her untimely demise.
After he parked the car, Jeremy returned to the ER to find Lori unconscious. Less than an hour later she would be dead of a massive heart attack, and her twins would die with her.
But Jeremy maintains that it didn't have to end this way.
Despite being paged by the hospital, Dr. Pelham Staples, the on-call obstetrician (who also happened to be Lori's personal obstetrician), never arrived. Instead, he spoke with Jeremy by phone.
"He said, 'Well, what do you want to do? Take the babies? Take the babies?" Jeremy recalled to Westword. "I kept responding, 'I'm not a doctor!'"
ER staff, meanwhile, were unable to detect any fetal heartbeats, and the decision to perform a perimortem Cesarean section fell to doctors at the scene, who decided against it.
A short while later Jeremy, who believes the Cesarean section might have saved his twins, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the faith-based nonprofit which operates St. Thomas More.
Catholic Health Initiatives is the second-largest faith-based health system in America, and boasts 78 hospitals in 17 different states.
CHI's lawyer, Jason Langley, successfully convinced both the Fremont County District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals to throw out Jeremy's lawsuit on the basis that CHI can not be sued for the wrongful death of a fetus, because it is not a person.
[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.
Jeremy's attorneys are now seeking to have their case heard by the Colorado Supreme Court.
Many Catholics are finding themselves in the awkward position of supporting the Stodghills in their battle against the Church, because they believe a win for the plaintiffs would be a win for pro-life advocates.