Catholic Health Initiatives and St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City acknowledged Monday it was morally wrong for their attorneys to defend a medical malpractice case in the death of unborn twins by arguing Colorado law doesn't consider fetuses to be persons.
Although legally correct under state law, it contradicts the moral teachings of the Catholic Church that life begins at the moment of conception, CHI representatives said in a statement.
CHI, operator of 78 hospitals in 17 states, changed its course in the 7-year-old case after Colorado's three Catholic bishops called for a review of litigation over the death of 31-year-old Lori Stodghill. She died while seven months pregnant with twin sons New Year's Day of 2006 .
Her husband, Jeremy Stodghill, and daughter Elizabeth sued CHI, St. Thomas and two doctors for three wrongful deaths. CHI led the defense.
"This case is now being considered for review by the Colorado Supreme Court. If the justices agree to hear the case, the Wrongful Death Act would not be among their considerations," CHI wrote. "The legal argument rests on 'causation' — that is, whether or not the medical personnel at St. Thomas More Hospital were negligent."
CHI said it will not cite the Wrongful Death Act in any future hearings in the case.
Four senior CHI executives, including president and chief
The bishops had publicly expressed concerns that any Catholic hospital — considered a public ministry of the church — would take the stance that fetuses' lives don't qualify for protection.
The bishops on Monday expressed support for CHI's decision to stop citing the Wrongful Death Act. Both the hospital system and the Catholic bishops said state law fails to adequately protect the rights of the unborn.
"Colorado's bishops have recognized the vital importance of CHI's ministry of healing, and look forward to continued collaboration in working to overturn unjust laws and in service to the Gospel," the bishops said in a separate statement.
Stodghill attorney Beth Krulewitch said the statement comes too late to help her clients.
"They can't unring the bell. The case was dismissed (in district court in Fremont County) because they argued it. Their statement now doesn't do anything to correct the injustice to the Stodghills."
CHI said that, after winning dismissal of the case in district court, it didn't file a lien against Jeremy Stodghill in order to collect $47,000 in legal fees awarded by the court.
However, one of the co-defendants, a doctor who is not a hospital employee, did pursue garnishment. "Mr. Stodghill filed bankruptcy to stop the garnishment," CHI said.
Although CHI didn't try to garnish Stodghill's wages, it did file the motion to be awarded legal fees in the case and later used those fees as a negotiating tool to persuade Stodghill not to appeal the decision, Krulewitch said. His total legal costs are more than $100,000, she said.
Denver Archdiocese chancellor J.D. Flynn said that CHI represents the church in the public square and, while the bishops don't control its operation, "it's certainly in the purview of the bishops to review the conduct of Catholic institutions in their territory."
CHI cooperated with the bishops, he said. "I genuinely believe they wanted to resolve this in a way that clarified what the church means by the dignity of human life," Flynn said of the bishops and CHI.