The church, its lawyers and a big ‘oops’ in a wrongful death lawsuit

I had debated talking about this story once I heard and read about it last week. But it’s too much of a classic of a case of the old “left hand not knowing what the right is doing” to ignore.

In a nutshell, a Catholic hospital is getting sued for death of a woman pregnant with twins. The woman died as did her unborn twin sons while being treated in an emergency room.

The woman’s husband sued the hospital for wrongful death. Defense attorneys, however, somehow forgot to tell the Catholic hospital that the defense it planned to use was that Colorado state law says an embryo is not a person until it’s born alive. Oops.

Here’s the story from CNN (http://bit.ly/11nClNA):

“A Catholic hospital in hot water for claiming in a Colorado court that a fetus is not a person backtracked on Monday, saying it was ‘morally wrong’ to make the argument while defending itself in a wrongful death lawsuit.

“The flip-flop concerns the case of Lori Stodghill. She was 28 weeks pregnant with twins when she went to the emergency room of St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colorado, vomiting and short of breath.

“She went into cardiac arrest in the lobby and died. That was New Year’s Day 2006.

“Her husband, Jeremy Stodghill, sued the hospital and its owner, Catholic Health Initiatives, for the wrongful deaths of his wife and their unborn sons.

“Given the Catholic Church’s belief that life begins at conception, defense attorneys for the hospital and doctors then entered an unusual argument.

“They said that under state law, an embryo is not person until it is born alive.

“The claim attracted widespread attention and criticism, which apparently forced the about-face.

“ ‘In the discussion with the Church leaders, CHI representatives acknowledged that it was morally wrong for attorneys representing St. Thomas More Hospital to cite the state’s Wrongful Death Act in defense of this lawsuit. That law does not consider fetuses to be persons, which directly contradicts the moral teachings of the Church,’ Catholic Health Initiatives said in a statement.

“It promised that attorneys for the hospital would not cite the Wrongful Death Act in any future hearings.

“Stodghill has petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to hear his case.

“The state’s bishops similarly released a statement, expressing support for CHI and for the Stodghill family.

“ ‘We join CHI in affirming the fundamental truth that human life, human dignity and human rights begin at conception. No law can ever mitigate God-given human rights,’ they said. ‘Each human life is a sacred gift, created as a unique and unrepeatable expression of God’s love. Life is given by God, and the right to life is a fundamental good, without which no other rights can be enjoyed.’ “

Not that I enjoy seeing stuff like this but it sure is a very interesting story. You have the Catholic church and its position of when life is life versus the lawyers who for some strange reason failed to let the religious leaders know of its defense.

Now the church knows it and it is pulling a U-turn as one would expect. I think we can bet on the church finding a new legal partner. In the meantime, this was a sure embarrassing moment for its leaders.

The whole argument of when life begins has been going on for years and the church has steadfastly maintained its point of view. This episode certainly didn’t help its cause in the effort to put forth its beliefs in when life begins.

It definitely ended the law firm’s relationship – at least it will if you ask me. Not talking about this one before putting out your legal position was a big oops. It wasn’t a minor point in the argument of course. It will be interesting to see this case play out in court. And at this point it seems to me that it must go to trial if only to re-secure the church’s long standing position of when life begins.

— Andy Hachadorian

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About fromtheeditorchair

I am the editor of the Daily Local News.
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