A Fetus is a Person Unless the Church’s Wallet is Involved

When sued for malpractice, a Catholic hospital group decides that fetuses don’t have any rights if that would cost them money: (via)

But when it came to mounting a defense in the Stodghill case, Catholic Health’s lawyers effectively turned the Church directives on their head. Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

This is a sad case where a woman pregnant with twins died suddenly, and no emergency c-section was performed to attempt to save the twins. Apparently unborn persons are only persons if they’re being treated in a non-Catholic hospital.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit






63 replies
  1. 1
    c u n d gulag says:

    Uhm…

    Kind of a lack of any consistency, no?

    Kind of like “Pro Life” people who want to murder abortion doctors, nurses, aides, and the woman undergoing the abortion.
    These same “Pro Life” people are also pro war, pro torture, and pro death penalty.

    But, then, why should the leaders and lawyers of the Catholic Church be any different from any other Conservative people and/or organizations?

  2. 2
    Jay in Oregon says:

    As much as I’d love to see the Catholic Church be held accountable for anything, I’m concerned that a court affirming the husband’s claim that his unborn children are “people” might actually be a bad thing because it gives legal credence to the “personhood” concept.

  3. 3
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Hey…money ain’t beenbag, buster.

  4. 4
    burnspbesq says:

    I’m surprised to see that the insurance company didn’t force a settlement, because the hosptial is going to lose, and lose big. The case for liability seems pretty compelling. The applicable standard of care for doctors doesn’t change based on the doctor’s religion.

  5. 5
    piratedan says:

    waiting for the women in Mississippi to start leaving babies on the steps of the state capitol; since they want those babies to be born and no abortion to be available. Perhaps they can work out a deal where those unwanted children have to be raised by the legislators and those anti-choice protestors since they’re “responsible” for the outcome.

  6. 6
    ruemara says:

    Read this story a couple of days ago. Funny how money changes the Church’s tune. But those sluts better not have birth control.

  7. 7
    Gindy51 says:

    The comments are almost all against the hospital and its owners, the RCC. Even some professed Catholics are pissed off.
    Personally I am not one bit surprised by the RCC hiding behind CO law. I also think this needs to be brought up every single time anyone from the RCC spews any crap about abortion. The RCC losses that argument as of right now. Why pro-choice people haven’t used this before is beyond me since it happened in 2006 and has been in court since then.

  8. 8
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @burnspbesq:

    I’m not sure the doctor’s religion is the problem…it’s the hospital itself that’s on the hook, and is now arguing, basically, that Catholic dogma doesn’t apply when we’re talking really important shit like money.

    I agree with you that it’s surprising the insurance company didn’t step in and say “we’re not going anywhere NEAR a jury with this one…it’s bad news.”

  9. 9
    halteclere says:

    There is no contradiction if you believe that it is a sin to purposely kill a life (have an abortion) but it is not a sin, and is God’s Plan, if you stand around and let a fetus die without attempting any help.

  10. 10
    Quicksand says:

    Ah, Schrodinger’s Fetus! Is it a life? That depends!

  11. 11

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Catholic dogma doesn’t apply when we’re talking really important shit like money

    This has been true since at least the 4th century.

  12. 12
    👽 Martin says:

    @c u n d gulag:

    Kind of a lack of any consistency, no?

    Sure there is. Oh, you thought the Catholic Church’s moral argument would trump it’s financial argument. Yeah, it’s actually never worked that way. But they are perfectly consistent on that financial argument.

  13. 13
    curiousleo says:

    @burnspbesq: How many RCC run hospitals self-insure?

  14. 14
    Matthew Reid Krell says:

    While I, too, am rolling my eyes at the optics of the situation, let’s remember that lawyers have a duty to make the best argument in their client’s interest that they can. So if state law says that fetii aren’t people, and that argument can shield the hospital from liability, it would be unethical (and malpractice) for the lawyers not to so argue.

  15. 15
    👽 Martin says:

    @curiousleo: Given their size, it should be all of them. They used to have adequate cash reserves to do this, and why hand away that money to someone else’s profits?

  16. 16
    curiousleo says:

    @Matthew Reid Krell: A client can tell their lawyers which defense *not* to take. In this case the client can say “no, don’t do it that way” and the lawyers would not be subject to charges of not doing their duty. Also, how many of these lawyers are in-house?

  17. 17
    Gindy51 says:

    And then we have this gem, NM politician wants to make post rape illegal by saying it is tampering with evidence to abort the fetus. And yes, this sorry excuse for a female is a Republican.

    http://www.businessinsider.com.....Insider%29

  18. 18
    aimai says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Yes, this comment by burnspesqu makes no sense. The Catholic Church’ argument isn’t that laws don’t apply to Catholic Doctors. Its that he may or may not have committed malpractice when he failed to respond to his own page and get back to the hospital but he is only responsible for the death of one person–the woman and not of the twin fetuses. Since the Church hierarchy would hold him, both as a doctor and as a Catholic, responsible for terminating the two fetuses in an abortion on the grounds that they were “persons” at seven months this is pretty astonishing. I wish doctors who wanted to have the right and ability to perform abortions for their patients (the women) would sue this particular hospital on the grounds that it performs abortions by accident but refuses to perform them with safeguards for the mother.

  19. 19
    liberal says:

    @Matthew Reid Krell:
    Nonsense. Sure, the lawyers are free to push this tactic, but the client is ultimately responsible and could choose otherwise. That’s the whole point here—no one is saying the lawyer’s are hypocrites, but rather the client.

  20. 20
    curiousleo says:

    @👽 Martin: So if they self-insure wouldn’t that be a motive to not settle–opposed to an outside insurance company pushing for a settlement?

  21. 21
    Jerzy Russian says:

    @Matthew Reid Krell: Very true, and the “best interests” in this case involve money, and not some higher power and the like.

  22. 22
    Mnemosyne says:

    @halteclere:

    There is no contradiction if you believe that it is a sin to purposely kill a life (have an abortion) but it is not a sin, and is God’s Plan, if you stand around and let a fetus die without attempting any help.

    This right here. This is the religious argument the RCC wants to make, but can’t because they know it makes them sound like heartless ideologues.

    Remember, these are the same people who say that it’s immoral to separate conjoined twins if the surgery would mean that one would die and the other would live, because it’s better (and God’s Will) for both babies to die than to save one over the other.

  23. 23
    Zifnab25 says:

    @halteclere: Morally? That’s an interesting argument to have. But we’re talking about liability here. A hospital with a patient in its care is held to standards higher than simple Christian principals.

    If the Catholic Church believes that fetuses are people, and its staff neglected to perform due diligence in providing care to said people for whom they were providing treatment, then it is reasonable to assume liability was incurred in the same way that letting a gun shot victim you just admitted to your hospital bleed out on your hospital floor would incur liability.

  24. 24
    liberal says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    IANAL, but I thought that in many cases you only recover economic damages in a civil lawsuit like this. And in the case at hand, the twins have no “economic value”—they’re not earning income, for example. ISTR there are in fact lots of cases where there are no grounds for recovering money because in fact there are no economic damages from the loss of life. But I don’t have time to look it up on Teh Google right now, so…

  25. 25
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    A modest reinterpretation of the texts will soon result in Hypocrisy becoming the Eighth Sacrament; The Sacrament of Expiation.

  26. 26
    liberal says:

    @Zifnab25:
    Actually, I would assume that your point involves morality, too.

    While there’s no generic legal obligation to help someone in Anglo American law, that doesn’t mean there’s no moral obligation; and your relationship to that party and moral responsibility to that party is different if you’re a care giver.

  27. 27
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    Well, I guess it’s really true: hypocrisy has no bounds.

  28. 28
    liberal says:

    @Mnemosyne:
    Yeah, OK, that’s the same crap they trot out when they say they can’t abort a woman to save her life even if the pregnancy is doomed anyway.

    But (your valid general point about the despicable, in fact perverted, “morality” at issue aside) here it’s different; taking action would cost no life; mother was already toast.

  29. 29
    Kilkee says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Oh, I suspect that’ll happen yet. Gotta play some chicken first.

  30. 30
    liberal says:

    @liberal:
    ETA: yeah, of course, you probably would make the same point, but I somehow forgot your initial elision on the morality aspect.

  31. 31
    scav says:

    Odd how corporate persons reach for their Reeeligious Freeeeedom rights ™ and position trumps Mere Human Law card only when it’s in their economic interest to do so. One of their most lifelike traits.

  32. 32
    Kilkee says:

    @liberal: I’m not admitted in CO, but have done some work there. I know there are no punitives, and I believe economic damages are capped at $250k (even if they existed, which seems unlikely here). There is, I think, an emotional distress claim but I think that’s also capped at something like $50k. Makes me wonder about the failure to settle. Plaintiff may be refusing reasonable offers for reasons other than money.

  33. 33
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Kilkee:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the plaintiff feels he hasn’t gotten all the answers he wanted from the hospital about exactly what went wrong and how they reached the decision they did (assuming they even made a decision) to not make an effort to save the twins. Most of the time in medical malpractice cases, people are more interested in finding out how things went so wrong and what the hospital is going to do to prevent that kind of outcome in the future than they are in a cash settlement.

  34. 34
    WereBear says:

    @Mnemosyne: Why the heck didn’t they? Isn’t that standard? What kind of “ethics” is it to not even try?

  35. 35
    Mnemosyne says:

    @WereBear:

    Honestly, I have no clue. The only notion I have is that there was somehow a feeling that taking action would save one twin but doom the other, so no action could be taken.

    But, like I said, I’m guessing that the reason for the lawsuit is that the widower wants to find out what happened that day because the hospital is refusing to tell him.

  36. 36
    Kilkee says:

    @Mnemosyne: Quite probably. Alternatively, plaintiff is making unreasonable financial demands in order to force hospital to publically invoke (as it has) rather hypocritical defenses in order to win on summary judgement. It sounds like they have, and now it’s on appeal. Given the limited damages to be recovered and the fact that plaintiff is unlikely to achieve a reversal you’d expect a settlement unless its a matter of greed or principle, either of which can be pretty substantial obstacles to a rational resolution.

  37. 37
    Peregrinus says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    From what I understand, the doctor who could’ve ordered the surgery (both as the patient’s OB-GYN and the emergency OB-GYN on call that night) didn’t respond to a page, and Lori Stodghill died before they could find someone else to order an emergency C-section.

    I ran down the relevant text of the Colorado law code. As far as I can tell the only determination state courts have made so far is that a child who is born alive and then dies is a person for wrongful death purposes. There is a federal court decision that held that wrongful death actions can be brought on behalf of viable fetuses, but unfortunately it isn’t binding as it was a federal trial for diversity of citizenship reasons.

    The thing is, as hypocritical as Catholic Health’s argument is here, you can at least argue that maybe they just let the lawyers do their thing (in answer to someone upthread, these guys are not in-house) and didn’t pay enough attention when the lawyers said “this is what we’ll argue.” Not likely, but possible depending on how far up the executive structure of Catholic Health was involved.

    That said, both of the judges are ignoring plenty of precedent in choosing to accept that argument. It’s no surprise that one of them is a former hospital attorney. Here’s hoping the Supreme Court doesn’t ignore the trend that Judge Carrigan teased out in 1986.

  38. 38
    Roger Moore says:

    @curiousleo:

    So if they self-insure wouldn’t that be a motive to not settle–opposed to an outside insurance company pushing for a settlement?

    Not necessarily. Self insurance leaves the same financial incentives as outside insurance: the balance between expected cost of litigation vs. cost of settlement. The only way they have different financial incentives is if the amount either a potential judgment or a settlement would be enough to bankrupt the organization but not a big insurance company. If a loss in court might bankrupt the organization but the settlement wouldn’t, they may want to settle rather than face potential disaster. If the settlement would be enough to bankrupt them, they may choose to roll the dice and hope to be found not liable in court.

  39. 39
    Bmaccnm says:

    @WereBear: IANAL, but I am a Labor and Delivery nurse and a midwife. It is possible that there is no “they” in this situation. Performing a Ceserean requires someone who has the skills to perform the procedure. If the doc didn’t answer his page, there might not have been anyone else available to do it in the span of minutes that the procedure would have beneficial to the babies. I can picture a nightmarish scenario of frantic phone calls to the doc on call, then to any doc with privileges to perform a CSection.

  40. 40
    Bmaccnm says:

    I see that Peregrinus has the same thought, but again, you don’t “order” a C/S. You have to do one, and there might not have been anyone available to do one in those minutes.

  41. 41
    NotMax says:

    In related happenings:

    …Cathrynn Brown, a GOP state representative in New Mexico…on Wednesday…introduced a new law that would bar raped women from getting abortions because doing so would be “tampering with evidence.”  Source

  42. 42
    Peregrinus says:

    @Bmaccnm:

    The staff are so far the only people employed by Catholic Health who in any way acted exactly as they should’ve – so far the blame within the hospital rests on Dr. Pelham Staples, and from the articles I read yesterday (could be wrong if there’s new info) Jeremy Stodghill’s lawyers are arguing that Staples is at fault rather than the hospital as a whole.

  43. 43
    Bmaccnm says:

    If he knew he was on call for emergencies and didn’t respond to a page, I would tend to agree. Some hospitals have a policy that the emerg on-call provider has to be in house. This situation would be the reason for that policy.

  44. 44
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Peregrinus:

    Jaysus, what a nightmare for the labor & delivery nurses to have one dead and two dying patients on their hands and not be able to find anyone who’s qualified to save them.

    But pregnancy is perfectly safe and no one ever dies from pregnancy or labor-related complications, so there’s no moral reason to not force every pregnant woman to carry the fetus to the end regardless of the consequences.

  45. 45
    WereBear says:

    @Bmaccnm: Thanks: I realize my experience is with emergency surgeons standing by.

    Paging someone for a caesarian sounds unlikely to end well.

  46. 46
    Roger Moore says:

    @NotMax:
    That is a world class troll, all right. Especially because there’s no particular reason the fetus would have to remain alive to serve as evidence. As long as you preserve the aborted fetus- or even a decent tissue sample- and maintain a proper chain of custody, it should still be viable evidence in a criminal trial.

  47. 47
    roc says:

    @Jay in Oregon: The quibble isn’t with the decision. It’s with the church shamelessly and publicly shedding its professed morality when it suits them. And, to a lesser degree, the fact that few people are holding their feet to the fire when they do this stuff.

    They raise holy hell over the legality of abortion. They raise holy hell over the idea that Catholic hospitals that buy private hospitals may not be able to deny services they ‘morally object to’. They even raised holy hell over the notion that the law might compel them to so much as *offer* contraception to their employees. (Despite the fact that they already did.)

    All of this, hinging on the argument that life is sacred, sex is for reproduction and fetuses are people.

    And here they are vociferously arguing the complete opposite. Simply because they stand to lose a buck.

  48. 48
    👽 Martin says:

    @curiousleo:

    So if they self-insure wouldn’t that be a motive to not settle–opposed to an outside insurance company pushing for a settlement?

    No, it should work the same in either case.

    That said, in either case, the church could voluntarily settle and raise that up as a defense of their position that the fetus is a person. I mean, the church is willing to spend money to advance other moral causes such as poverty and adoption and health care, but not the fetus as person? Why would paying off the family here and then making a big show of their decision be any different than buying the Crystal Cathedral or putting money behind the Anti-Prop-8 campaign?

    I agree the the lawyers have a professional obligation to defend the church under the law as it stands, but the church is under no obligation to accept that defense.

  49. 49
    Peregrinus says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Yeah, I would hate to have been the emergency room staff that night.

    In Espadero the judge brought up your second point – he mentioned that CO wrongful death statutes were formulated in the nineteenth century when prenatal care and injuries were (at best) an inexact science and that one couldn’t be expected to continue to rule on cases where the law itself provided no guidance when the necessary advancements hadn’t been made to enable the law to provide it.

  50. 50
    NotMax says:

    @roc

    And here they are vociferously arguing the complete opposite. Simply because they stand to lose a buck.

    Thus is the church’s 2000 year run of being entirely devoid of hypocrisy shattered.

    /snark

  51. 51
    liberal says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    But pregnancy is perfectly safe and no one ever dies from pregnancy or labor-related complications, so there’s no moral reason to not force every pregnant woman to carry the fetus to the end regardless of the consequences.

    This.

    In that argument about contraception as preventive care awhile back, people were arguing that pregnancy is not a disease. Yeah, well, disease or not, if left “untreated” it will kill a substantial percentage of women.

  52. 52
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    @Kilkee:

    @liberal: I’m not admitted in CO, but have done some work there. I know there are no punitives, and I believe economic damages are capped at $250k (even if they existed, which seems unlikely here). There is, I think, an emotional distress claim but I think that’s also capped at something like $50k. Makes me wonder about the failure to settle. Plaintiff may be refusing reasonable offers for reasons other than money.

    If 50k is the only damages that the hospital is on the hook for, then by God I wouldn’t settle either. 50k for a screw-up like because the Ob/gyn didn’t answer the page isn’t enough for the loss of the twins. If I was the father, I’d be ‘I’m gonna make this hospital and that Ob/gyn suffer and run up their legal bills.’

  53. 53
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @halteclere:

    If that’s what one believes, then one is truly fucked up in the head, and the proper response is to put that head on a pike.

  54. 54
    David in NY says:

    Haven’t read the last 20 or so comments, but I think the Church’s case may be pretty good under CO law, because of the way CO law defines the cause of action here. This is an action for “wrongful death” as I understand it (that action is only a creature of statute, not common law, since there was no action for wrongful death under the beloved common law). And, the Church is arguing, under the CO wrongful death statute, a person isn’t alive, and thus made dead, if it’s never been born. (Maybe this isn’t so, but it could well be.) Anyway, the Church’s position is hypocritical in the extreme, but that doesn’t make it legally wrong — and it may well preclude the suit. (I’m not gonna research CO law, but you’re all welcome to. Ah, I see that @Peregrinus: has done that.)

  55. 55
    David in NY says:

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger:

    I’d be ‘I’m gonna make this hospital and that Ob/gyn suffer and run up their legal bills.’

    Litigation is a terrible way to get revenge. Trust me.

  56. 56
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    @Quicksand:

    Schrodinger’s Fetus!

    That is fucking awesome. Please accept these Internets as a token of appreciation.

  57. 57
    Peregrinus says:

    @David in NY:

    Especially when CO is a state that heavily caps damages (in wrongful death actions).

  58. 58
    David in NY says:

    @Peregrinus: Yup. If the lawyers representing the plaintiff are doing this on a contingency, it’s a little hard to figure out why. They can eat up $250,000 in intense litigation pretty fast and be nowhere.

    Actually, economic damages seem not to be limited, but non-econcomic limited to $250,000.

    http://www.coloradowrongfuldea.....amages.asp

  59. 59
    Peregrinus says:

    @David in NY:

    As long as they’re compensatory rather than punitive in character. Of course, the loss of a wife and children is pretty hard to compensate for.

  60. 60
    Mnemosyne says:

    @David in NY:
    @Peregrinus:

    I guess that’s the question in my non-lawyer’s brain — are economic damages the only ones that this plaintiff would be allowed to sue for under Colorado law, or is there other compensation he can sue for?

    I can just imagine the nightmare of having to deal with the hospital collections department as they insist you have to pay the bills for the doctor’s screw-up that led to the deaths of your wife and your prospective children because, hey, there was no economic damage to you from that loss.

  61. 61
    johnny aquitard says:

    I’d like for Catholic Chruch to explain to me exactly how many dollars it takes before they believe a fetus loses its soul.

  62. 62
    Peregrinus says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    So far as I could tell from the federal court holding (which included a general discussion of CO wrongful death law) non-economic damages cap out at $250,000, or you can elect to get a ‘soliatium’ (that is, a “solace payment”) of $50,000 instead of non-economic damages, but you can put that soliatium on top of economic damages. All that aside, economic damages must also be compensatory rather than punitive.

    The two judges so far have essentially said that Catholic Health’s argument is right and Jeremy Stodghill can’t file a wrongful death suit on behalf of the twin children, who were – from the facts of the case – more “saveable” than the mother. If the CO Supreme Court reverses, then he would be able to sue for those non-economic damages.

    (All of this is subject to IANAL. I took exactly one class in educational law, but it involved finding out the basics of things like citations, hunting down precedent, and things like that, so I did at least get a nice grounding in research. Obviously, if you read my blog post, he missed telling me that federal district courts aren’t binding on state courts, but that wasn’t such a huge deal. :-)

  63. 63
    David in NY says:

    @Mnemosyne: My link above explains the available damages in what I think is reasonably comprehensible language. Medical bills are economic damage and fully reimbursable (if the Church isn’t willing to cough those up, it’s made of even bigger idiots than I thought). There is the conceivable damage because the twins won’t be around to support Dad in his old age, but that and other economic damage are probably just too speculative to recover. Then there are non-economic damages, such as emotional distress and pain and suffering. I don’t know whether, in CO, these have to be endured by the deceased to allow recovery (that is, whether there is compensation only for the pain the fetuses endured before death etc.), or whether Dad’s emotional distress is compensable — in which latter case, the $250,000 cap is easily reachable. (When I lost track of NY law on this, there was big question whether Mom, standing and watching her kid get run over by truck and suffering traumatic stress injury, could be compensated — don’t know how that turned out.)

    Ed: To be even more pedantic. In NY, there were two causes of action. One was an action in the name of the kids, for their pain etc., while they were still alive. And one, for wrongful death, in the name of the heirs, who lost the deceased and his/her support, etc. No clue how CO does it.

Comments are closed.