Colorado's three bishops will examine litigation surrounding Catholic Health Initiatives, after its lawyers allegedly argued in a wrongful-death lawsuit that human fetuses are not persons.
“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,” the bishops said Jan. 24.
“Catholic Health Initiatives has been accused by some of undermining
the Catholic position on human life in the course of litigation," they
added. "Today, representatives of Catholic Health Initiatives assured us
of their intention to observe the moral and ethical obligations of the
In 2006, Lori Stodghill and her two unborn children died at a hospital
operated by Catholic Health Initiatives. Lawyers for the health system
argued that Colorado's wrongful death legislation does not apply to
Attorney David Woodruff, one of those representing the plaintiff, told
CNA Jan. 24 that “a lawyer doesn't typically take a position on behalf
of a client without the client approving it.”
“I can't really speak for the relationship there, what actually
occurred between lawyers and adjusters – I wasn't there and it would be
inappropriate for me to comment – but we as lawyers aren't supposed to
be conveying a message in the world that doesn't directly reflect our
client's wishes...that's why it's so surprising.”
In their statement Thursday, the Colorado bishops said that from “the
moment of conception, human beings are endowed with dignity and with
fundamental rights, the most foundational of which is life.”
“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,” they said.
“No Catholic institution may legitimately work to undermine fundamental human dignity.”
On Jan. 1, 2006, Jeremy Stodghill took his wife Lori, 28 weeks
pregnant, to St. Thomas More Hospital's emergency room in Cañon City.
She was complaining of nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath. There,
she suffered a heart attack due to a blood clot which traveled to her
Her obstetrician, Pelham Staples, was on-call that day, but failed to
arrive at the hospital. Both Lori and her unborn sons, Samuel and
A nurse listened for the boys' heartbeats, and not hearing any, doctors decided against performing an emergency C-section.
Stodghill chose to sue the hospital, its owner Catholic Health
Initiatives, Staples, and the emergency room doctor for the wrongful
death of his family members.
In defending Catholic Health Initiatives, their lawyers have argued
that no act could have saved Lori's life. But they have also argued that
the 28-week old fetuses are not human persons.
“Catholic Health argued...that it could not be held liable for the
wrongful death of a fetus, because a fetus is not a person until it is
born alive,” according to a legal document filed Sept. 27, 2012, by
Only after Catholic Health Initiatives was the first defendant to
advance this argument – that a human fetus is not a person – did the two
physicians raise the same contention, Beth Krulewitch, one of
Stodgehill's attorneys, wrote to Colorado's appellate court Aug. 10,
According to the Westword, one of the defendants' lawyers, Jason
Langley, argued in a brief that the judges “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...therefore
Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn
In a Jan. 24 statement, Catholic Health Initiatives stated that, “In
this case, St. Thomas More, Centura Health and Catholic Health
Initiatives, as Catholic organizations, are in union with the moral
teachings of the Church.”
Catholic Health Initiatives did not answer specific questions, though
they added that “first and foremost, our heartfelt sympathies have
always been with the Stodghill family as a result of these tragic
Stodghill's attorney's have argued that because the fetuses were viable
– which none of the defendants has disputed – their father should be
able to sue for their wrongful death.
Catholic Health Initiatives have won two cases in the saga so far.
On Dec. 5, 2010, Fremont County District Court judge David Thorson
dismissed Stodghill's lawsuit. Thorson said that “a fetus is not a
'person' for purposes of wrongful death liability,” according to an
appeal filed by Stodghill's attorneys.
Stodghill appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals. That three-judge
panel decided on Aug. 16, 2012, to affirm the district court judge's
decision. The appellate judges affirmed because they found there was “a
lack of evidence” the fetuses died because of negligence on the doctors'
Following this decision, Stodghill has appealed to the state's supreme
court. He asked that the Colorado Supreme Court decide “the issue that
the Court of Appeals refused to decide,” whether physicians are immune
to malpractice suits when their negligence leads to the death of a
viable fetus before its birth.
Stodghill is awaiting to hear whether or not they decide to hear the
case – which has significant implications for the liability of
physicians when a viable fetus in their care dies before birth.