News Brief: Stodghill vs. Catholic Health Initiatives

Nearly everyone on the planet has been subjected to the abortion debates. The slogans are heard on cable news, in church, at clinics such as Planned Parenthood and on college campuses. The idea that a child is conceived and is a person from the moment sperm meets egg is a central truth in the Christian church. However, Saint Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colorado may have thrown a monkey wrench into those deep-seated beliefs.

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.

By InnatelyKait

I am an art history student extraordinaire doing research on Hellenistic Sculpture in Ancient Greece. I also moonlight as a multitasking office assistant. Yes, I am really that awesome. In a past life (or career really) I was a photographer.

Chocolate and ugly baby animals keep me from being as awesome as I could be. I know all the names of the cats in my building (but not the names of their humans) so I guess I am the crazy cat neighbor.

15 replies on “News Brief: Stodghill vs. Catholic Health Initiatives”

This makes me want to throw up. That the hospital would be so ballsy as to go to court over this is ridiculous- given their stance (or what’s supposed to be their stance), it should have been settled out of court and they should have admitted fault (not sure of the actual legal proceedings).

In doing a little sleuthing, the Catholics Bishops are not commenting yet. My best guess? CHI will no longer be managing that hospital, or something along those lines.

It’s a very sad story, but had the doctor been there to perform the surgery or an ER doctor made the call to perform an emergency C-section, both mother and sons might have survived. The twins were at a point at which they could survive even if they had been born prematurely. I’m not sure I would call this a wrongful death suit, but both the doctor and the hospital were negligent at the very least.

Perhaps I’m missing some point in this story, but whilst there is the wrongful death element, what about the lack of c-section to save the twins? There’s the wrongful death in terms of whether it can be applied (foetus/person) but surely there’s a medical negligence part, too, in that there wasn’t an attempt made to save the twins…? Hmn. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding this.

I’ll admit, I find the whole situation strange as I can’t see it occuring here (UK), and that it seems bizarre that the “mission” of a hospital is to be guided by religion.

I was thinking that as well – while the twins may not have been ‘persons,’ it is most likely (from my reading of the article) that they would have survived to become persons had the doctor answered his call and performed the c-section. While I don’t want to legally recognize a fetus as a person, I do want the hospital and the doctor held accountable for their negligence.

A simple negligence claim is a lot less expensive than a wrongful death claim. You also have to be able to prove that there was a breach in the duty of care owed to the person SUING. There was (probably) no duty of care to the father/husband.

Wrongful death claims are brought in the name of the person who was killed. No person = No suit.

I’m so torn on this case. Of course, I feel that the hospital was in the wrong, and that the twins were a very real loss to the family. But at the same time, I’m scared of the ramifications. For legal precedent purposes, the greater good (as far as the abortion debate goes) would be served by a ruling of the fetuses as not people. But of course, from a human being with emotions standpoint, I want the hospital to pay for their neglect. Is their personal justice more important than the possible impact on reproductive rights? Less? The same? Gah. I wish there was a way to get them a victory without the possible fodder to the anti-choicers.

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