Bishops to review lawsuit of woman who died at Catholic hospital
By Veronica Ambuul, Colorado Catholic Herald
In a statement released Jan. 24, the Catholic bishops of Colorado’s three dioceses said they plan to review a civil lawsuit in the case of a woman who died along with her unborn twins at a Catholic hospital.
Lori Stodghill was seven months pregnant with twin boys when she began feeling sick on Jan. 1, 2006. Her husband drove her to St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City, Colo., which is owned by Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), a multi-state network consisting of about 170 facilities. The lawsuit states that Stodghill’s obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, was on call that evening but did not answer his pager. She died of a massive heart attack shortly after arriving at the hospital.
Stodghill’s husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit against CHI, arguing that Staples might not have been able to save his wife but should have tried to save the twins through a cesarean section. When the case went to court in Fremont County, Colo., CHI’s lawyers argued successfully that the unborn twins are not considered “persons” under Colorado law, and therefore a wrongful death lawsuit had no merit. The basis of CHI’s defense—that unborn babies are not persons with legal standing—is controversial because it would seem to contradict the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care,” issued in 2009, that lay out the principles under which Catholic hospitals operate.
“Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the document states. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn and the care of women and their children during and after pregnancy.”
An appellate court judge confirmed the ruling in favor of CHI. Stodghill’s lawyers have filed an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court, which is expected to announce whether it will hear the case within several weeks.
In their Jan. 24 press release, which was issued by the Archdiocese of Denver, where CHI is based, the Colorado bishops stated that they “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.
“From the moment of conception, human beings are endowed with dignity and with fundamental rights, the most foundational of which is life,” the release stated. “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.”