Lori Stodghill was 31 years old and seven months pregnant with twin boys when she was admitted to St. Thomas More Hospital after feeling ill. Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Stodghill’s heart stopped and doctors were unsuccessful at resuscitation attempts. She and her twin sons died on New Year’s Day in 2006 less than one hour after arriving at the hospital.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, it was learned that Stodghill died of a massive heart attack following the blockage of the main artery leading to her heart. It would also be discovered that her obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, was on call at the hospital that afternoon but did not respond to his pages. Doctors determined that an emergency Caesarian section may have saved the life of the Stodghill’s twins in spite of the loss of their mother.
Jeremy Stodghill, husband of Lori Stodghill, has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit following the loss of his twin boys. However, St. Thomas More Hospital has been successful at blocking the lawsuit claiming that the deceased twins were fetuses and not people, and as such the situation cannot legally be considered a wrongful death.
In today’s court system the case would be left at that. The problem with this case stems from the fact that St. Thomas More Hospital is run by Catholic Health Initiatives. The national hospital chain states its mission to be as such:
The mission of Catholic Health Initiatives is to nurture the healing ministry of the Church by bringing it new life, energy and viability in the 21st century. Fidelity to the Gospel urges us to emphasize human dignity and social justice as we move toward the creation of healthier communities.
Many Catholic hospitals and institutions, Catholic Health Initiatives included, seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These directives instruct caregivers to be:
…[W]itnesses to the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until death, and the Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.
Basically, with this one lawsuit, Catholic Health Initiatives may have inadvertently thrown decades of church teachings out the window. The lawsuit has already been heard by two lower courts, both of which sided with Catholic Health Initiatives. If heard by the Colorado Supreme Court this lawsuit could set precedent if previous court rulings are overturned.
If Catholic Health Initiatives wins the lawsuit, the Stodghill twins will be declared fetuses, therefore the wrongful death suit will be dropped. However, this also means the Catholic Church will lose in the grand scheme of things. It will be more difficult to stop funding to Planned Parenthood. The Church can no longer claim that abortions are murder if you cannot wrongfully kill a fetus. Colorado may become a virtual Mecca of abortion clinics should the Colorado Supreme Court rule in favor of Catholic Health Initiatives.
If they lose their lawsuit and the Stodghill twins are deemed to be persons, the ramifications are much higher. Catholic Health Initiatives will owe monetary compensation to Jeremy Stodghill and his now 9-year-old daughter, Libby. That’s about as far as the consequences extend for the hospital. The Catholic Church, however, will win their long-standing battle that fetuses are people. This could create new laws throughout the country banning abortions, cutting funding to clinics, and making it difficult to get birth control. It makes for a sticky mess in politics.
Realistically, Jeremy Stodghill will most likely lose his lawsuit. He knows this and does not delude himself with false hope. He also knows that his sons, Samuel Edward and Zachary James, were people. The only picture he has of his sons is an autopsy photo of the boys cleaned up and laid together on a white blanket. After six years of battling the Catholic healthcare system, Stodghill is ready to be finished, saying, “That’s it,” if the Colorado Supreme Court does not reexamine the case within the next few weeks.
The story of the Stodghill family is an unfortunate morality play that warns of the dangerous out come when greed, religion, responsibility, and politics are in conflict. Catholic Health Initiatives will almost certainly emerge the victor of this lawsuit. The cruel irony of this stems from the fact that they are going to do so by supporting the very argument the Catholic Church has spent decades fighting. In today’s society of bipartisan politics and unyielding religious beliefs, one must personally decide if the nation should hold our institutions to the same ethical standards they require of us.